What does „Persona Non Grata“ mean? Meaning, definition, explanation

The term „persona non grata“ comes from official jargon among diplomats. It is used to describe a person who is undesirable. In the meantime, the expression has also found its way into normal linguistic usage.

What does „persona non grata“ mean? Meaning, definition, explanation

The translation can be derived from the Latin as well as from the Italian still in use today

persona = a person, a human being
non grata = not welcome, not pleasant.

In the past, the spelling „Persona non gratae“ was also common.

In English, the expression is correctly translated as „an undesirable person“.

„Persona non grata“: The origin from diplomatic circles

If a state no longer wants to tolerate the diplomat of another country, it can declare him persona non grata.
This has happened more often in the past when a diplomat has been guilty of something or suspected of espionage.

Special rules apply to diplomats. They are usually immune, which means that normal legislation does not apply to them. This is supposed to give them a special status. In exchange, diplomats must have an excellent reputation and demonstrate a certain level of behavior.

Sometimes „diplomatic expulsion“ is used as a power tool in the dispute between two states. The reason is not the diplomat’s misconduct, but quite another. The expulsion of the persona non grata is then a symbolic act.

The opposite of persona non grata is persona grata (desirable personality) or persona gratissima (highly desirable personality). In this way, preferences of a particularly popular diplomat can be expressed in a very elegant way.

„Persona non grata“: The use of the term outside diplomacy

Occasionally, one hears or reads about persona non grata in other circles as well.

Particularly fine people may use it to describe someone who is simply not wanted in their circles. The use of the foreign and political term creates a certain distance. Declaring someone persona non grata can be done directly, for example, by sending them a letter or a note.

The exclusion or expulsion can also happen indirectly. Invitations are no longer extended or the person is denied access to club rooms, parties or other gatherings.

In addition to its use in elite circles, one occasionally reads the term in the media. Persona non grata is then always to be understood as an inappropriate, undesirable or unwelcome personality.

Teenagers and young adults also like to use the term. They use it to express someone they don’t like or who is not wanted in their environment. In this context, persona non grata is a fashionable expression.

It is quite possible that the phrase will pass into normal usage in the future.

Persona non grata – well-known personalities

German writer and Nobel Prize winner for literature Günter Grass was persona non grata in Israel. Authorities imposed the entry ban after the publication of a critical poem and the revelation of Grass’s brief membership in the Waffen SS.

Right-wing Austrian FPÖ politician Jörg Haider was also persona non grata in Israel until his death.

Brad Pitt was persona non grata in the People’s Republic of China for many years. The reason for this was his appearance in the film „Seven Years in Tibet“ (1997).

Actress Claire Danes was declared persona non grata by the government of the Philippines after she made negative comments about the country’s capital, Manila. In an interview with the women’s magazine Vogue, she said, „Manila is horrible and strange.“

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