German chancellor Angela Merkel said at the Auschwitz commemoration:

"Es ist eine Schande, dass Menschen in Deutschland angepöbelt, bedroht oder angegriffen werden, wenn sie sich irgendwie als Juden zu erkennen geben oder auch wenn sie für den Staat Israel Partei ergreifen." http://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/DE/Rede/2015/01/2015-01-26-merkel-auschwitz.html

This was translated by Euronews as:

“It’s a shame when people in Germany are mobbed, threatened or attacked when they say they are Jewish or when they speak out for the State of Israel.” http://www.euronews.com/2015/01/26/merkel-speech-opens-auschwitz-anniversary-events/

I'm not sure but it seems to me that even though the direct translation of the word "Schande" is "shame", the use of the phrase "it's a shame" is incorrect. When you say "it's a shame", it means "too bad, oh well.." whereas I believe that she meant to hold the people who do that responsible for their behavior. I would have translated it as "It's a disgrace" or "It is shameful". Would that be the correct translation or is the phrase "It's a shame" acceptable in this context?

  • 7
    I would agree with your suggestions, disgrace and shameful carry more force and negative connotations than "it's a shame".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 30, 2015 at 6:50
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    This is a mistranslation of Es ist eine Schande, and does Merkel a disservice. She absolutely meant: It is a disgrace ... . The similar German expression: Es ist schade translates as It's a shame.
    – Shoe
    Jan 30, 2015 at 7:23
  • Remember, "it's a shame ... means too bad, oh well..." is an English idiom, which doesn't necessarily exist in German. The word "shame" is to be read in its literal sense (disgrace, if you please) in the context, not in its idiomatic sense. Much ado, I'd say.
    – Kris
    Jan 30, 2015 at 7:26
  • @Kris The use of the English idiom here conveys the wrong meaning, and should therefore be avoided. Word-for-word translations are, of course, best. When they work. Jan 30, 2015 at 10:12
  • @EdwinAshworth My point was that no idiom was used.
    – Kris
    Jan 30, 2015 at 12:04

1 Answer 1


The primary meaning of "shame" is a feeling of guilt or disgrace (etymonline). The expression "it's a shame" for "it'a pity" is a later semantic development and a bit difficult to explain. But I think it is absolutely correct to translate Schande with shame. A pity that etymonline does not mention the expression "it's a shame" for "it's a pity" and how this somewhat illogical use came into being. Perhaps once again influence of American speakers of German stock? The German words Schande and schade are very similar and it may be possible that such speakers used English shame as corresponding word for both German words. We have a similar case with "fresh" that was used for German frech (insolent) in Don't be fresh!

It would be interesting to know whether "it's a shame" is of American or British origin and about when it came up. Astonishingly I hardly find anything about this expression on the internet.

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    No; 'It's a shame' here is incorrect. Jan 30, 2015 at 10:09
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    It’s a shame is also used in the Scandinavian languages with the same meaning as in English. Not sure about Dutch. It is definitely not a good translation here, no more than if English “It is a disgrace that…” had been translated into German as “Schade, dass…”. It does not mean what was said. Jan 30, 2015 at 10:54
  • @Edwin Ashworth - I wouldn't say it is incorrect. One can only say today a formula such as "It's a shame + that-clause" is ambiguous. But from the context it is clear that what is meant is "It's a disgrace" and not "It's a pity".
    – rogermue
    Jan 30, 2015 at 16:53
  • From the internet: It's only 'It's a shame [that'] that never means shame in the sense of disgrace. I'm not using this as a proof of ungrammaticality, but as a summary of views on what 'It's a shame that' is taken to mean (you can check to see the percentage of usages of this sense). Most people would take the 'Isn't it a pity that ...' sense, because that's how it's almost always used. It's grammatical, but an incorrect translation here. Jan 30, 2015 at 17:43
  • Well, as a non-native speaker I can't be sure. In colloquial language the sense is: It's a pity. But I can't imagine that in formal language such as a public speech "shame" should have lost its primary and original meaning. I almost guess that some native speakers don't know what the original meaning of shame is.
    – rogermue
    Jan 30, 2015 at 18:18

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