In a casual chat, I just wrote:

Siamo in balia del clima caldo e molto umido per tutto il mese di giugno. E sembra si faccia sempre peggio ogni anno che passa. Roba da rendere intollerabile la vita! Basta trascorrere una settimana d'estate in Giappone per farti venire voglia di tornartene con la coda tra le gambe! :D

I wonder if the expression "(fare qc) con la coda tra le gambe" always refers to a shame-driven action? Or can you also use it when you have reached a point where you cannot stand something (like an uncomfortable level of humidity in this context) any longer? That is, when the flight-impulse is triggered by lack of patience, tenacity etc?

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    The expression is used to express despondency genererally after being unsuccessful. Avere la coda tra le gambe: mostrarsi avvilito dopo un insuccesso. dizionario.internazionale.it/parola/avere-la-coda-tra-le-gambe - I am not sure what concept you want to express in your sencence.
    – user519
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 21:11
  • I agree with Gio. Alone-zee, did you mean that going in Japan turned out to be a bad decision? This is more or less what transpires by your phrasing, almost as if to say that you championed going there, and now have to admit it was a mistake.
    – DaG
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 21:58
  • @Gio / DaG The main idea I want to convey here (jokingly) is that spending just a week in Japan is enough to make Europeans (who are generally not accustomed to extremely humid climates) think twice about living here. Like, it turns out to be not as good as it's cracked up to be, at least climate-wise, so you basically hightail it out of here. Perhaps matching the description "express despondency genererally after being unsuccessful"? Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 3:09
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    Hmm.. The problem here is that farti venir voglia di tornartene con la coda tra le gambe is a bit of an oximoron. No one wants to feel humiliated. What about farti tornare indietro con la coda tra le gambe?
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 7:05
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    It's up to you, Alone-zee: if in that sentences you want to convey a sense that the travel to Japan was some of a failure of judgement and the utterer is, indeed, at least a bit ashamed of having suffered rather than enjoying it, tornare con la goda fra le gambe is perfectly correct. If you/he is just upset and cross, it isn't.
    – DaG
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 7:07

2 Answers 2


Tornare con la coda tra le gambe means coming back from some experience ashamed of what happened, embarrassed by the result, significantly inferior to what one expected.

Carlo Lapucci's Dizionario dei modi di dire della lingua italiana lists it among other ones with a similar meaning:

Partire a cavallo e tornare a piedi
Entrare papa in conclave e uscirne cardinale
Fare come i pifferi di montagna (che andarono per sonare e furono sonati)
Tornare a piè zoppo
Andare per lana e tornarsene tosi
Tornare con la coda fra le gambe, ovvero come un can frustato
Tornare a mani vuote
Tornare con le pive (trombe) nel sacco
Restare a bocca asciutta (a denti asciutti)
Restare con un palmo di naso

So, in all cases, they do not refer, as perhaps in the Japan example, to a generic unpleasant experience, but to a humiliating one, where an outcome taken for granted was degradingly missed, and the person was actually or figuratively beaten.


Very likely this stock sentence derives from dogs' [obviously, non-verbal :)] communication: keeping the tail between legs is possibly one of the most common and better known dogs behaviours. Largely, it means that the dog is scared, very often due to the fact that the animal has been for any reason submitted or something similar. In any case, when dogs have tails between legs it means that the animal does not feel secure.

Same goes for the sentence. You use it either to say that someone needed to do something obtorto collo [against their will] or because they are afraid.

I'm not 100%, but I guess that in English there is the "stock sentence". As some people has asked, "stock sentence" means "frase fatta" - think about that as "idiom".

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    The stock sentence...?
    – DaG
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 15:53
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    Welcome to Italian.SE! I agree with @DaG: I don't understand what do you mean with "stock sentence". Could you please edit your post and explain it?
    – Charo
    Commented Sep 13, 2018 at 16:17
  • "stock sentence" means "frase fatta", literally. Call it "idiomatic", if you prefer.
    – gbiondo
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 9:29
  • @gbiondo: The problem was not with the phrase “stock sentence”, but with the fact that your sentence was incomplete and with empty inverted commas. I (and probably Charo too) thought that something was missing, say some stock sentence you were about to quote.
    – DaG
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 15:16
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    I know that Google claims that stock phrase is a translation of the Italian frase fatta, but I'd rather go with something like idiomatic expression, or fixed phrase. That said, even beyond that I also find your last paragraph a bit obscure. Could you try to paraphrase it a bit?
    – Denis Nardin
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 19:27

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