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Wiktionary mentions that «verga» can be a vulgar term for an erect penis. It mentions this along with several other definitions.

RAE mentions the vulgar term as the first definition, then lists half a dozen other definitions.

Google Images (I won't provide a link), of course, only thinks the vulgar definition has any relevance.

Should I take this as a clue never to use this word in polite company? Or are there contexts (aside from the technical context of naval navigation, etc) where it would be appropriate to use this word? If so, can you provide an example or two?

To clarify a little, Wiktionary says verga can mean "a long and thin stick, pole or rod". Is this a benign usage, or is this a vulgar usage, in which the long and thin stick is being compared to an erect penis?

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    Google is well known for providing lots of context-sensitive searches (based on previous searches you've made and your location). So doing the same search while in the U.S./Spain/Chile/China may net very different results (that is, don't trust the Google too much, although in this case it's mostly true). – user0721090601 Feb 23 '15 at 0:31
  • Probably as foreigner people would consider it as cute that you know such an expression. But the world itself is obnoxious. – c.p. Feb 26 '15 at 16:34
  • In Mexico, at least: ALWAYS avoid in polite company. And in other situations, as a foreigner, I also recommend you avoid it. Vulgar language coming from foreigners can come across disrespectful. – aparente001 Apr 5 '19 at 2:37
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Aside from technical you shouldn't use verga in formal situations, since is considered peyorative for some people depending on your location.

As a Venezuelan citizen, I can tell you that the word verga its widely used by us but in an informal (and quite often an ofensive) way. It can connotate several things:

  • An object or replacement for a word that you dont remember: Agarrame esa verga que está allí
  • As an exclamation of rage: you hit yourself with the door, then yell VERGA!

But remember, NEVER EVER in a formal context or you'll be considered an offensive person.

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    Don't forget Qué difícil es hablar el español: as in Venezuela it's informal but not that bad, in Argentina verga is without doubt the most vulgar way of naming a penis (I think it's the equivalent of dick in English). – mgarciaisaia Feb 24 '15 at 21:35
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    I have some Venezuelan friends and all the time the say verga this, verga that. At the beginning was a little bit offensive because in Peru the word verga is penis and it is used as a peyorative way. Almost never heard! It's equivalent in Peru like Mierda (shit) or Chucha (shit/oh fuck man/oh no/ damn) (peruvian coloquial word to represent vagina) – Maximus Decimus May 26 '15 at 13:12
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Just avoid using that word at all. Even in casual conversations it is vulgar.

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I think I would avoid using "verga" if you are not sure if anybody could be offended. Better safe than sorry.

Regarding the last part of your question, I think there is a context where it could be not that offensive. As stated in the link to the RAE entry for this word, it is (just) a synonym for "pene". Then, it is explained that is an "interjección vulgar en El Salvador y Venezuela". Probably this list should include other countries, such as Mexico, where it seem that the word is also used as an interjection. So it looks like we have some regional differences here.

In Spain, we don't use the word for these kind of exclamations (we would favor other synonyms). So if you said "verga" it could be understood the same way as "falo", a word that doesn't sound as "technical" as "pene", nor as childish as "pito" nor as rude as "polla" (for which the RAE, to the contrary of "verga", adds the indication that is malsonante).

It seems that this won't hold true for most Latin American countries, where the word is used in expressions like

Vete a la verga Get the fuck out of here!

¡Está de la verga! This is very difficult!

If you are talking to Latin American is a context where colloquialism or rude language is not welcomed or accepted you should avoid the word.

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  • Btw. Está bien verga would be, on the other hand, flattering. E.g. "Tu coche está bien verga". And "estar de la verga" could also mean "está muy feo/fea" or politically, "¡las nuevas medidas de austeridad están de la requeteverga!". – c.p. Feb 26 '15 at 23:53
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Two answers regarding if and when you can use it: yes, if you are talking about an animal and navigation. No, if you refer to humans, as then it is straight vulgar.

Edition: Here is a pair of examples of acceptable use, Manual del remontista ... page 11, the author's intended audience are interested in horses; and navegacion en Egipto ... pg 39, where is making clear description of a ship. The same would apply to a formal conversation where the other people are into the same topic i.e. animal genitalia (for any reason) or navigation.

Examples of no-no use have been provided in other answers, so I think that's pretty clear. As general rule however, you should avoid any other use besides those above.

I am a native Castilian speaker from Peru.

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  • I agree with what you say, but let me give you some advice to improve your answer. In this case where we deal with different registers, it would be appropriate to specify which country you are talking about. And some examples of the non-vulgar use would also be appreciated. – Gorpik Feb 24 '15 at 13:14
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    Good examples, but you should also copy them in your answer. – Gorpik Feb 26 '15 at 12:25
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Avoid its use in Colombia, is a very vulgar word and is often related to street slang specially in north coast of our country. In large cities is not well seen as it denotes poor or street background, lack of education, intention to offense and in general defines a person as vulgar, not trustable.

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I'm Mexican, born and raised...and the use and acceptance of that word varies according to the region.

Of course, it is very informal, and should be avoided if you are with complete strangers. And you need to know how to use it in order to avoid offensive situations.

People in Northern, and West-coast regions are very used to that word. The word can be used to address A LOT of different situations - not only sexual. Possible uses are for example to say "awesome", "cool"...it can be used to insult someone...it can be used to say that something is terrible... It's very cultural.

Examples:

A la verga...el calor está cabrón! (Fuck man...today is hotter than ever!)

Vete a la verga la cerveza está chingona! (Hell man, this beer rocks!)

Tú pintaste eso? Está vergas! (You painted that shit man? It rocks!)

Vete a la verga! (Go to hell! - Go fuck yourself!)

Chúpame la verga! (Suck my cock!)

No...esa película vale verga (Nah dude, that movie ain't worth seeing)

Me siento de la verga... (Dude I feel really bad) - Speaking of health or feelings.

Me fue de la verga en el examen (I think I did so bad in my test...)

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No need to use the word unless in technical situations. A similar word is 'envergadura' which mostly means how wide, thick, or (in a metaphorical sense) important, something is. But the other word is quite unnecessary in day-to-day life.

(As for the rules: I'm quite sure that in this case, research can be based on personal experience...and is probably what is being asked...)

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You should only use that word when you are trying to offend someone. Likely examples are in the same vein as calling someone shitface, you would say 'cara de verga' which is common in México, but as i said before is meant to insult, in méxico people use double meanings and as a joke you could call a real close friend, who gets that you are joking with that sentence, but only you can know who to call like that.

I use it myself, even if people think im a little vulgar, sentences you could hear usually are: 'me vale verga' = "I don't give a f***" and those mentioned before, like vete a la... and Esta de la ... Is important to note you are not referring to a particular person when you use the word in the examples, in that way people will think of you as a vulgar person but dont get offended because you are not calling them verga, you are using the word against the environment or situations. Is like cursing in english or using the f word a lot.

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    It was clear that "verga" can be offensive. I think that the question is more if it is always offensive or are other context when it can be considered a "neutral" word. – Diego Feb 24 '15 at 15:22
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    Remember that you can always edit your own posts, in case that you wanted to add what you have as a comment on your post to the post itself. Welcome to the site! – Diego Feb 24 '15 at 15:24

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