In a piece comparing two poets (Source), an author has a single paragraph that reads:

For shame. (As in “because of shame.”) Which is a shame.

This is confusing – What does this writer mean by what he says in the parentheses, and by "which is a shame"?


In English there exists an interjection -- "For shame!" -- which expresses disapproval.

Johnny, did you really take cookies from another child's lunch box? For shame, for shame!

The parenthesized comment explains that the previous "for shame" is not that phrase but simply a way of wording "because of shame". But then, the author could have just written "because of shame" and omitted the explanation. So it is clear that the author wrote "for shame" followed by an explanation deliberately, in order to play on "For shame!", in order to sneak in an expression of his or her own disapproval of the situation.

"Which is a shame" is simply an expression that the preceding situation is unnecessary, wasteful or regrettable in some way.

Note that in "for shame", as used by the author, the "for" means "because of" (we have to take the author's word for it). But in the "For shame!" interjection it doesn't have a meaning. The expression is an idiom without any literal interpretation according to any general rule of grammar. We can hypothesize that "for" plays the role of a special particle for starting such interjections, and it may simply have been copied from expressions such as "For God's sake!" in which it does play a normal grammatical role (literally saying "for the sake of God"). Another expression with such a "for" is "For crying out loud!".

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  • So the last sentence and "for shame" are connected. So this "for" is the same as "I was arrested for larceny.?" – user2492 Nov 15 '13 at 1:26

Read it in context.

Make themselves and their poems more “mature” and “sophisticated” for a culture that makes a fetish of complication and ambiguity above earnestness as signs of “seriousness.” Larkin put the barbed wire of irony around the ecstatic utterance, Auden altered or erased his.

For shame. (As in “because of shame.”) Which is a shame. Can’t we have both, the complex poems and the consolatory one-line reductions?

  • for shame (As in “because of shame.”).
    Poets make their poems more "mature" and "sophisticated" to fit into a culture that sees complication and ambiguity as a sign of "seriousness". They do this to avoid the shame of being seen as "cultural misfits", if you will.

  • Which is a shame.
    The author says that poets doing as above is regrettable or unfortunate, and he wonders why they cannot retain both the complex version and the one-line version.

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(Which is a shame) means that the verb spoken previously is something sinful or embarrassing.

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