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Please help me to understand the meaning of "guilty" in this context:

"He turns around and spots me.

Byron. Once I would have done anything for Byron.

‘Skye! Skye Turner – it’s you, isn’t it?’

‘Guilty,’ I say, then instantly regret it.

Byron engulfs me in his strong arms."

Excerpt from "My mother's silence" by Lauren Westwood

Suppose, her answer does not mean that she is literally guilty for returning to the place she left many years ago?

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In addition to the two existing good answers, I'd like to add that the fuller version of "guilty" is "guilty as charged". The basic meaning of this phrase is the same as "guilty" as explained by Michael Harvey and jla, namely, to affirm that one is responsible for a crime that they have committed.

The state will prove that the defendants are guilty as charged. (Merriam Webster)

But there is a figurative sense that is commonly used colloquially. See Cambridge Dictionary

used to admit that what someone has been accused of is true, often when you think this is not really bad:
Guilty as charged! I am an Elvis fan!
Yes, he's guilty as charged of being a show-off, but that's why he's so entertaining.

This has a slight implication that the thing one is being identified as can be jocularly likened to a minor offense. "You like Elvis Presley?" "Guilty!" This basically means: "Yes I am an Elvis fan. And I am proud of being one." Of course being an Elvis fan is nothing to be ashamed of, but the funny part is you are using "guilty" to imply that some people might think that, (but you are proud).

I found your source on Google Books. Fuller context:

But even before he turns around, I know him. I had no idea he worked here now, or else I wouldn't have come inside. I should have arranged for a taxi before I arrived, or better yet, rented a car in Glasgow. Now, it's too late. He turns around and spots me. Byron.

Apparently "I" do not want to see this Byron guy and "I" didn't know he would be here, otherwise "I" wouldn't have come. Of course there are reasons why that is the case, and you will have to get it from the prior passages, but the situation described here is clear. "I" feel embarrassed and thus reluctant to see Byron, and that is implied in the use of the phrase "guilty" as a way to say "yes" (give an affirmative answer) to "It's you, isn't it!"

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    "Are you Mary's husband?" "Guilty, but there are extenuating circumstances" Heard by my father once at a wedding. – Michael Harvey Aug 31 at 20:21
  • This is very much related to the idiomatic phrase "guilty pleasure". Definition: "A guilty pleasure is an activity or piece of media that someone enjoys but would be embarrassed by if other people found out about it. These might be books, movies, TV shows, foods, etc. Generally the guilty pleasure is something that might be viewed as shameful by some people, like trashy novels or overdone rom coms." - dictionary.com/e/slang/guilty-pleasure – chasly - supports Monica Aug 31 at 21:30
  • @Chasly - Mine include James Blunt's song "Stay the Night", and any Douglas Reeman audiobook. – Michael Harvey Sep 1 at 5:57
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    Just to clarify, she's metaphorically pleading guilty to being Skye Turner, not for visiting the place. "Guilty" is a common response to confirm somebody's recognition of you. – Cristobol Polychronopolis Sep 2 at 20:08
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It is purely a conversational joke, a little old-fashioned, a way of saying "Yes", "That is correct", or "You have guessed correctly". In courts of law in English-speaking countries, a defendant (accused person) is asked to "plead" either "guilty" (they admit the crime) or "not guilty" (they deny the crime). Byron has not seen Skye for many years, and is not sure that he is addressing her, so he asks if it is her. She pretends that Byron, is "accusing" her of being Skye, and says "guilty" because he is correct.

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In court the judge may state the crime of which the defendant is accused, and the defendant will answer 'Guilty' or 'Not Guilty'. Guilty means 'Yes I did it', and Not Guilty means 'No I did not do it'.

This has become a colloquialism in modern English in which replying 'Guilty' (or Not guilty) to a question means an affirmative or negative answer. It sometimes has the nuance that the responder feels the question is an accusation, but is generally used as a light hearted response.

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  • Alternatively, "I am on occasion guilty of sloth" or "I plead guilty to pampering my wife" are common usage where a court (other than the court of popular opinion) is not involved. The humorous opposite is "Up to a point, Lord Copper...". – Mark Morgan Lloyd Sep 1 at 14:59
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Skye! Skye Turner – it’s you, isn’t it?’
‘Guilty,’ I say, then instantly regret it.

'Guilty' implies that someone has done something wrong. In this response it conveys the positive assertion that the speaker is indeed the person they are looking for, and that it is something to be ashamed of as if being that person is a bad thing.

However, it is a very light implication and a fairly common response and usually usually used in a joking manner and not really an implication that someone is ashamed of who they are. It may also be a shortcut as saying "sorry" for some minor thing the speaker feels bad about.

From the quote it seems as if one person has moved away and lost contact with the people they grew up with and that they feel a little bad for not keeping in touch. But from 'then instantly regret it' it seems to me like it was just used to try and be funny and was so corny that they regretted saying it.

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