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If a statement is blatantly wrong, one can call it bullshit in English. But how about Latin? Is there something more strong and colorful than falsus? I am not convinced that a direct translation would be meaningful, and it almost certainly would not be idiomatic.

The word can be a noun, an adjective, or a verb, or a longer phrase. The only goal is to be able to express the sentiment in Latin.

The word "bullshit" is used in somewhat different ways, and a common nuance is not just wrongness but disregard for truth. Different views might call for different translations, but I am looking for anything idiomatic in this direction. If there turn out to be plenty of phrases like this, differences can be explored in other questions.

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    I think calling something "bullshit" is quite different from calling it "wrong." Harry Frankfurt has an excellent little book On Bullshit: the key distinction for him is not that one is wrong (or right), but that one doesn't really even care about whether something is wrong or right--it's just words for the sake of appearances. – brianpck Apr 1 at 14:42
  • @brianpck Indeed, the word certainly goes beyond "wrong". It has many nuances and different people use it somewhat differently. I updated the question. (I think I read an article about that book recently, but only the Finnish translation was named and I considered it to be different from "bullshit".) I hope the direction I'm pursuing is clear enough even though I don't have a specific use case in mind. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 1 at 14:54
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I would suggest nugae, -arum as a good equivalent of English "bullshit."

The English term has a fairly tame sense. By my lights, it's a term of abuse for something that seems empty, nonsensical, or sophistical--not something reprehensible or base. So I think Latin nugae fits most of the occasions, though I suspect it is even more tame and fits a somewhat wider range of scenarios, e.g. "Stop being an idiot!"

Plautus, as usual, has some great examples. Here's one:

Pistoclerus: Tace modo: deus respiciet nos aliquis.
Mnesilochus: Nugae. vale. (Bacchides IV.3)

Translation:

P: Shut up for a moment: some God will look down on us.
M: Nonsense (or: bullshit)! Goodbye.

You can also say: Nugas agis! or nugas blatis! or nugas garris! or simply: nugas!

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  • Thanks! This is just the kind of thing I was after. Tamer than I had expected but very useful nonetheless. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 1 at 18:16
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Nugae! Ineptiae sunt aniles! Fabulae, logi, somnia! Gerras loqueris; hariolaris, vaticinaris!

  • Nugae, ineptiae, gerrae are dedicated terms for nonsense, balderdash, trifles, idle speech, silliness, folly, … (I could go on). The expression ineptiae aniles means something like old wives' tales (also known as fabellae aniles).
  • Fabulae should be clear – licet fabulas narrare, nisi si veritas exspectatur.
  • Logi literally means words, but in the plural actually idle words, rubbish.
  • Somnia literally means dreams, musings, but also delusions, woolgathering. I would not use it to accuse someone of intentional fabrication or at least careless untruthfulness, so it is probably not an appropriate translation of “bullshit.”

There are also some verbs:

  • Hariolari literally means to prophesy, divine, which (or so it is my understanding) was actually a respectable occupation in ancient Rome, nevertheless it also means to speak foolishly, to talk silly stuff, nonsense.
  • Vaticinari means essentially the same thing as hariolari.

Disclosure: Most of these are taken from Smith & Hall's entry for nonsense, with some cross-checking in Lewis & Short and my copy of Menge-Güthling. Neither Lewis & Short (1849) nor Menge & Güthling (revised edition from 1983, goes back to 1907) would dream of using a word like “bullshit,” but rather read like thesauruses of charming mild-mannered chiding in English and German, respectively. But I assume that the basic desire to declare someone else's utterings complete and unredeemable folderol has remained the same throughout the centuries.


A nice example is the following dialogue from Terence's Phormia, Act 3, Scene 2. (Phaedria is in love with a slave but cannot afford buying her. He is trying to persuade her owner, Dorio, to hold off on selling her to a sailor while he raises money; Dorio is having none of it.)

Ph. Non mihi credis? (You don't believe me?)
Do. Hariolare. [= hariolaris]
Ph. Sin fidem do. (What if I give you my word.)
Do. Fabulae.
Ph. Foeneratum istuc beneficium tibi pulchre dices. (You will later say this favour earned you a pretty penny.)
Do. Logi.
Ph. Crede mihi, gaudebis facto: verum hercle hoc est. (Believe me, you will be glad you did this, I swear it's true.)
Do. Somnia.

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  • Is there a reason you went with Ineptiae sunt aniles instead of just the simple Inepti(as/ae)? Would that miss something important? – Mast Apr 2 at 8:31
  • Vaticinari - So the Vatican is a place where such nonsense is practiced? =D – Stian Yttervik Apr 2 at 10:30
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    @StianYttervik It's based on the more charitable meaning (which both vaticinari and horiolari have), more directly linked with the underlying vates, 'prophet'. But etymology doesn't imply meaning. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 2 at 15:13
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    @Mast No particular reason, just for variety. These are not just exclamations but can be used freely. An example from Plautus (Casina, Act 2, Scene 5): Nugae sunt istae magnae: quasi tu nescias … Free translation: Oh, that's a load of bull: like you don't know how suddenly those human Jupiters can pass away …books.google.com/books?id=F30VAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA286 (line 25, Olympio's boss Stalino thinks he's the Jupiter of his household) – Sebastian Koppehel Apr 2 at 19:23
  • Is there a reason to believe the "nonsense" meaning of Hariolari isn't just sarcasm, like saying "thanks, professor" to someone these days? – Borgh Apr 3 at 9:38
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The Wiki article: "Latin Obscenity" is for you.

From "cacare" = "to defecate":

"Annales Volusi, cacata carta!" = "Annals of Volusius, paper (having been) defiled by shit!" (Catallus 36)

Presumably, the writings of poor, old Volusius were the (bull)shit being referred to?

(Martial III. 17) speaking of a tart which had been blown on by a man with impure breath (caused no doubt by oral sex) to cool it down:

"sed nemo potuit tangere: merda fuit." = "But nobody could touch it: it was a piece of shit."

Term "merda" was a common term for "shit" in Latin, along with "stercus" = (more like) "manure" i.e. less-offensive to the ear than "merda".

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