Italian word of the day: ‘Vergogna’

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If you find yourself stuck at an airport or on a long-delayed train in Italy, perhaps due to a strike, one phrase you’ll hear irate Italians mutter is: “È una vergogna.”

You might see the word translated as ‘shame’ but let’s get one thing straight: if you call something a vergogna (pronunciation here), you don’t mean ‘it’s a shame’ or ‘it’s a pity’ (that would be peccato). 


It’s not disappointment – it’s far worse than that. Vergogna runs the full gamut from awkwardness to embarrassment to all-out disgrace.

Let’s start with its mildest meaning. Feeling a touch of vergogna might just mean you’re shy.

Provo vergogna davanti a lei.
I feel shy around her.

Ha vergogna di parlare in pubblico.
He’s shy about speaking in public.

Or it could be worse: you’re embarrassed.

È arrossita per la vergogna.
She went red with embarrassment.

Volevo sprofondare per la vergogna.
I was so embarrassed, I wished the ground would swallow me up.

Worse yet: you’re ashamed.

Aveva sempre nascosto, per vergogna, il suo passato.
He had always hidden his past, out of shame.

Non hai vergogna delle bugie che hai detto?
Aren’t you ashamed of the lies you told?

Worst of all: someone’s ashamed of you.

Il padre provava vergogna per le malefatte del figlio.
The father was ashamed of his son’s wrongdoings.

Sei la vergogna della famiglia.
You’re a disgrace to the family.

Che vergogna!
What a disgrace!

Rispondere così ai genitori, vergogna!
Talking to your parents like that – disgraceful!


And if someone isn’t sufficiently ashamed of themselves for your liking, you can instruct them “vergognati!” – ‘you ought to be ashamed’ or ‘shame on you’.

It’s the imperative form of vergognarsi, the verb that means ‘to feel ashamed’ (or just embarrassed). 

– Dai, suonaci qualcosa.
– No, mi vergogno.

– Come on, play something.
– No, I’m embarrassed.

After all, a little vergogna now and then is only natural. It’s the ones who non hanno vergogna di nessuno (‘have no shame’) you have to watch out for. 

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