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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian word of the day: ‘Vergogna’

It's a crying shame if you don't learn this word.

Italian word of the day: 'Vergogna'
Photo: DepositPhotos

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.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

Can you fathom the meaning of this word?

Italian word of the day: ‘Scarabocchio’

If you haven’t yet found a proper Italian word to describe the unintelligible collection of dots, wonky lines and swirls that Italian doctors often nonchalantly passes off as a prescription, scarabocchio might do the trick.

Scarabocchio is the Italian equivalent of ‘scribble’ or ‘scrawl’ and it describes to any piece of writing or drawing whose meaning can’t be fathomed. 

Ho lasciato la lista della spesa sul tavolo!

Si, l’ho vista ma non ci ho capito niente. Era tutto uno scarabocchio…

I left the shopping list on the table!

Yes, I saw it but couldn’t understand any of it. It was all a scribble…

From a five-year-old’s abstract artworks to a colleague’s poor excuse for a handwritten note, you can use scarabocchio for pretty much anything – as long as it figures on a piece of paper. 

Though it is a bit of a mouthful (pronunciation available here), Italians love to use the word in daily conversations, especially so when it comes to mocking the unfortunate author of the scribble. 

Ti ho fatto uno schema per farti capire meglio.

Ma cos’e’ ‘sta cosa? Mi sembra proprio uno scarabocchio…

I’ve drawn a diagram to help you understand.

What on earth is this? It looks like a scrawl to me…

The word comes from the fusion of scarabeo (beetle) and the pejorative suffix -occhio (also used in ranocchio, meaning ‘ugly frog’, and marmocchio, meaning ‘bratty kid’). 

Though today’s scribbles may not resemble the shape of a beetle, they most likely did back in the days when poor handwriting skills would result in your quill creating circular blots of ink on the paper.

That’s why, to this day, Italians refer to scribbles as ‘ugly beetles’. 

Funnily enough, sgorbio, one of scarabocchio’s synonyms, also takes its name from an animal, namely the scorpion. But that’s a story for another time.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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