When I first heard the expression on BBC World Service news, it conjured a picture of two sulky, sullen infants standing at opposite sides of the room while a referee-ing adult stands between them saying things like ‘Mary. say you’re sorry.’ Mary, looking fixedly at the floor, mutters, just audibly and with obvious insincerity, ‘Sorry’.
‘That’s better, Mary. Now, Johnny, you say you’re sorry too.’
‘What did you say?’ ‘SORRY fuck it.’
‘Now, children, I hope neither of you has their fingers crossed.’ (Both children blush.) ‘I’m going out of the room now, and I don’t want to hear another word.’
Adult leaves, and hostilities continue as before, but more stealthily.
This, it turns out, is almost exactly how it is. One wants to laugh, but then remembers that these children have guns and bombs.