untranslatable word for "embarrasment for someone else"
October 2, 2005 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Untranslatable words- The word I'm looking for means [roughly] "feeling embarrassed for someone else", and I think it might be in Portuguese. Anyone?

I wanted to ask this for a while, and I was reminded by this thread.
posted by exlotuseater to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I know its easy to express in Spanish - but it looks like it may be innately Dutch too. See this Language Log post.
posted by vacapinta at 6:18 PM on October 2, 2005


vergonha? It's Portuguese for 'shame' ... I've heard my parents use it in the sense of "feeling embarrased for someone else." Or perhaps "ashamed to be witnessing someone's embarrassment"?
posted by MiG at 6:25 PM on October 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of Shadenfreude (i may have butchered the spelling) - german word for taking pleasure in the embarassment/misfortune of others.. hah.
posted by twiggy at 6:30 PM on October 2, 2005


Schadenfreude.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:31 PM on October 2, 2005


"Schadenfreude" isn't "feeling embarrassed for someone else." It's "a malicious pleasure at someone else's misfortune."
posted by kindall at 6:41 PM on October 2, 2005


Okay, it's really not schadenfreude.

The word I've always used is fardo.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:44 PM on October 2, 2005




Someone I knew invented an English word for this: tick-sick. I think it was something like the creep of horror one feels when interacting with someone who has some awful tick. But the broader meaning is exactly as you say.

Still, I'm not sure that there is much difference btween being embarassed *for* someone and *by* someone. If a person does something that makes you cringe, they have embarassed you, even if they are mainly making themselves look bad.
posted by scarabic at 7:13 PM on October 2, 2005


Still, I'm not sure that there is much difference btween being embarassed *for* someone and *by* someone. If a person does something that makes you cringe, they have embarassed you, even if they are mainly making themselves look bad.

But you could feel embarassed for a movie character, for instance. They're causing you to feel embarassment, but it's on their behalf, not yours.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:16 PM on October 2, 2005


Holy frigging crap, do I know you? I've been asking every single person I know this question for a week! Freaking creepy. I keep thinking it's a German word, actually.
posted by tristeza at 7:19 PM on October 2, 2005


Ok, the one I was thinking of is "vergonha"... thanks MiG.
I'm glad though that I also now have fardo, plaatsvervangende schaamte [from vacapinta's link, above], igry, and tick-sick. Thanks all, and keep 'em coming!
posted by exlotuseater at 7:28 PM on October 2, 2005


Still, I'm not sure that there is much difference btween being embarassed *for* someone and *by* someone.

It's like the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone. When I see a dude propose to a girl on the Jumbotron at a sporting event, and then the girl runs away, I feel bad, but I know that everyone is looking at the dude who doesn't have a fiancee. When I'm embarassed by someone, I feel that people are thinking bad things about me. When I'm embarassed for someone, I feel that people are thinking bad things about is him.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:29 PM on October 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


I can't help with the Portugeuse, but in English I've always called this emotion "contact embarrassment." A Google search surprised me by revealing that it's not the common phrase that I thought it was, but some people (including Neil Gaiman!) use it.

Help popularize it! It's really handy!
posted by painquale at 7:31 PM on October 2, 2005


Where's Miguel when you need him?
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:32 PM on October 2, 2005


painquale, "contact embarrassment" is a limp, clunky, and clinical substitute for "vergonha" or Jeanne's "igry."

The English language is omnivorous and economical, viz. "Schadenfreude" on this thread. One poster offers it up and the very next poster slaps him down. I doubt either one is discussing a familiar word from die Gemeinsprache. I'm not, and yet I know that the first poster's use was entirely inappropriate, and schadenfreude (cap or lc is a copyeditor's fight) is a staple of conversation in my dog run.

I'd love to have a single word to convey "feeling embarrassed for someone else." So useful in the dog run! Not to mention in bipedal life. What's the phonetic rendition of "vergonha"? (Jeanne, no offense, but "igry" connotes both "angry" and "ignorant" -- neither seems appropriate.)
posted by vetiver at 8:54 PM on October 2, 2005


In Spanish "verguenza ajena", literally "other-belonging embarrassment".
Vergonha sounds like just plain "embarrassment", I think.
posted by signal at 9:22 PM on October 2, 2005


"contact embarrassment" is a limp, clunky, and clinical substitute for "vergonha" or Jeanne's "igry."

But it gets the point across. AFAIK, everyone I've said it to has understood what I meant (which is why I've thought it was a more common term than it turns out to be). "Igry" will draw blank stares. People understand "contact embarrassment," which is why it's handy to use and which is why I mentioned it. (But definitely say '"vergonha" if you can get away with it! Cool word.)

(I don't find "contact embarassment" limp and clunky. How can something be simultaneously limp and clunky anyway?)
posted by painquale at 9:59 PM on October 2, 2005


I'm familiar with the Dutch phrase, and I actually want to express this feeling quite often in English, but there really is no proper term for it, is there? Nobody is going to understand Spanish, Portuguese or Dutch, so I always have to describe within great detail how I "feel embarassed on their behalf".

The German word "Schadenfreude" is definately not the same. It's "making fun of someone else's problems". Which begs the question...why is there no single English word for that either?

By the way, "plaatsvervangende schaamte" is translated as "place-replacing shame" in vacapinta's link, but unlike some Dutch words there actually is a proper English word for "plaatsvervangende": substituting, or maybe substituted in this case. And "schaamte" is "embarassment" rather than "shame".
(so it's "substituted embarassment", where your embarassment is substituting for someone else's. The whole phrase acts as a noun.)
posted by easternblot at 10:15 PM on October 2, 2005


"substituted embarassment", where your embarassment is substituting for someone else's

We call it cringe tv too!
posted by NekulturnY at 12:29 AM on October 3, 2005


Sounds like the feeling one gets when watching old reruns of Three's Company. For the actors AND their characters.
posted by mikel at 5:43 AM on October 3, 2005


My Portuguese teacher used vergonha last week as we were talking about the skimpy outfits some pregnant women wear. I had to agree.
posted by wallaby at 6:01 AM on October 3, 2005


My circle calls is "Douche Chills". I've also heard "Vagina Disgust". Good to have a SFW alternative.
posted by softlord at 6:58 AM on October 3, 2005


Whatever the name, this is how I feel at comedy shows when the comic bombs. I feel huge empathy for the guy, in a very visceral way, as if it were me up on that stage bombing. It's not their offensive or embarrasing behaviour that's the problem; that I can just scoff at with schadenfreude. Rather, it's the embarrasment I imagine I'd feel if I were up there, really trying to give a good performance, and then, inadvertently, giving a bad one.

The feeling is so strong that I avoid such shows, even though I usually enjoy them on the whole. There's a large element of projection in there, I know.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:22 AM on October 3, 2005


This is great. I always called this 'that feeling you get whenever George Costanza is on-screen in a Seinfeld episode.'
posted by adamrice at 7:22 AM on October 3, 2005


Yeah, this feeling is why I just can't watch sitcoms anymore. After a while they all started to evoke the cringe factor. Good to know there are some words for it.
posted by MsMolly at 8:12 AM on October 3, 2005


I call this the "Larry David Factor."
posted by jeanmari at 9:06 AM on October 3, 2005


Cringe.
posted by flabdablet at 4:03 PM on October 3, 2005


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