Italian word of the day: 'Vergogna'

Jessica Phelan
Jessica Phelan - [email protected] • 20 Feb, 2019 Updated Wed 20 Feb 2019 17:34 CEST
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It's a crying shame if you don't learn this word.


I was one of the several hundred people stuck at Rome's Ciampino Airport this week because of a fire, and as my fellow unfortunates and I waited for hours in the car park, the phrase I kept hearing irate Italians mutter was: "È una vergogna."

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

No, 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.

This was what my fellow passengers meant at the airport when they declared "è una vergogna": 'it's a disgrace'.

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. 

Do you have a favourite Italian word you'd like us to feature? If so, please email our editor Jessica Phelan with your suggestion.



Jessica Phelan 2019/02/20 17:34

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