If a statement is blatantly wrong or shows lack of interest in the truth, 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.

  • 3
    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
    Commented Apr 1, 2020 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
    Commented Apr 1, 2020 at 14:54

3 Answers 3


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)


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!

  • Thanks! This is just the kind of thing I was after. Tamer than I had expected but very useful nonetheless.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 1, 2020 at 18:16

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.

  • Is there a reason you went with Ineptiae sunt aniles instead of just the simple Inepti(as/ae)? Would that miss something important?
    – Mast
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 at 8:31
  • Vaticinari - So the Vatican is a place where such nonsense is practiced? =D
    – Stian
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 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
    Commented Apr 2, 2020 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) Commented Apr 2, 2020 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
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 9:38

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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