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I am looking for a Latin equivalent of ‘my eye/ my arse’ as an expression of contempt or incredulity in Latin or less emphatic ‘I don’t think! e.g. He’s a model of good behaviour, my eye/ my arse/ I don’t think. Horace’s credat Iudaeus Apella, non ego could be an equivalent for ‘I don’t think!’ A friend of mine suggested itane (= really!). Another example is ‘She said something had upset her stomach. Upset stomach, my arse. She was pissed! Here perhaps nugas ais/ iocaris nunc tu might serve but I can’t find any more colourful suggestions in my trawl through the relevant Latin literature. I found on this site uah might fit the bill or quid (eh!) but all the Romance languages are full of far richer expressions. Have colleagues any ideas.

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There did exist quite a few of these, and you've already mentioned a number of good options in your question, which is very welcome and makes replying much easier. Apart from that I relied on Smith&Hall a lot. As usual, I'll try to categorise and comment.

Among generic expressions:

  • I wouldn't advise itane? or vērōn'? which are genuinely incredulous instead of rhetorical.
  • vah is generic enough to fit the bill, while quid needs some elaboration and is best used as quid ais?, the most stock expression of rhetorical incredulity there is.
  • There are also good options in (h)eija crēdō! "yeah, right [I sure believe you]!" as well as the more genuine ain' tandem? "[do] you serious[ly mean it]?".
  • Similarly, (h)eija vērō! appears to express surprise and mild disbelief, perh. like "come on!" (in Mil. and Rud.).
  • For something even more sarcastic, try the classically unattested but IMO perfectly idiomatic tōtus crēdō! "I totally believe you".

The next logical step would be negative exclamations:

  • aufer (mihi) "I don't need (your)...", abī "get outta here" and the Greek apage (tē) "piss off":

    aufer mī “oportet”: quīn tū quid faciam imperā ("I don't need your 'we probably should' - just tell me what to do!", Ter.Ph.223)

    abī, lūdis mē, crēdō! ("Get outta here! You're pulling one over on me for sure!", Plautus)

    apage sīs! ("Drop it will ya?")

...and generic oaths, which I'll just list; here's an entire thesis on these.

  • (me)hercle, pol, edepol, (m)ēcastor
  • prō Juppiter, medius fidius
  • dī vostram fidem! - An expression of any intense emotion, more or less equivalent to "for X's sake" and certain Slavic expressions involving mothers.
  • The interjection pro(h)! can be mentioned here as well.

Next you can use entreaties to the effect of "spare me this":

  • In the order of increasing force: quaesō, amābō, opsecrō, ōrō, precor (tē).
  • These (especially opsecrō) can be preceeded by quid for a rhetorical "come on man, did you really just say this?".

Then you have a number of subjective modal adverbs of the type 'certainly':

  • scīlicet & vidēlicet - the main difference is that the former refers to internal, inferential or author's judgement, the latter to external, evidential, someone else's. The latter probably needs to be combined with enim for the sarcastic force.

    Homo enim vidēlicet timidus aut etiam permodestus... ("[Catilina], the retiring fellow that he is, one could say a paragon of modesty", Cic.Cat.2.12.3)

    Et ego id scīlicet nesciēbam! ("Much obliged, I am sure, for the information!", Cic.Fin.2.31.102, translation by H. Rackam).

  • nīmīrum "of course, how else?", also typically with enim.
  • profectō "for sure", sine/apsque dubiō, quis dubitet? "no doubt" (whereas certē is normally genuinely agreeing).

Similar to these is the (hyperbolically) sarcastic use of highly positive adjectives such as praeclārus, illūstris, integer; the rhetorical force is often brought out precisely by the aforementioned adverbials.


Nouns and interjections: there was a whole raft of various words, starting with (ni)hīlum, with the basic meaning "thing of little value" which give an impression of having either various geographical or diachronic origin (and new ones continued to emerge later, in Romance). Only some of these are used rhetorically, either on their own (as interjections, some in nom. and others in acc.) or as the object of narrās "you're telling me".

  • nūgās is a petty mild word for "idle banter" or "that's just talk", anything or anyone that shouldn't be taken seriously - "a joke" is probably the closest equivalent. It's found with various modifiers (e.g. merās, maxumās) and has a special use in reference to people, in which it appears to be indeclinable, hence probably colloquial for nūgāx which is then its alternative spelling found in mss of Petronius:

    Pompeijum vīdistī, quī tantās turbās, quī tam nūgās esset, commōrit? ("Have you seen Pompey? Such a little man gathering such crowds?", Cic.Fam.8.15.1)

    Tū mortuus es, tū nūgās es. ("You're dead, you're a nonentity", stereotypical curse inscription, CIL IV 5279, 5282, Pompeii)

  • gerrae is rarer and appears to be more aggressive; could be related to cerrītus "frenzied lunatic".
  • apinae, trīcae are often found together and seem to perfectly match "nonsense", including in the sense "annoyance":

    quās tū mihi trīcās narrās? ("What kind of nonsense is that [which you're telling me]?", Pl.Cur.613)

  • Finally, the various expressions for imaginary stories like fābulae! somnia! and even the Greek logī! (λόγοι).

Verbal descriptions: these can be used in the second person after or instead of rhetorical repetition, e.g. vir bonus?! hah!..

  • garrīre "to talk much and nonsensically".
  • ineptīre "to act/think inappropriately, to be silly".
  • somniārī "to be imagining things; to dream (on)" - unlike the following doesn't refer to sleep.
  • dormīre, dormitāre, e.g.: #1 Aurum redde! #2 Dormitās, senex! "Give back the money!—In your dreams, old man!".
  • īnsānīre, vāticinārī, hariolārī "to lose one's marbles, become unhinged". Especially īnsānīs! is highly idiomatic as a reply.
  • jocārī refers to amiable, playful banter, but in some cases may be fitting.

Horace's curious crēdat Jūdaeus Apellā, nōn ego "Apella the Jew can believe it if he wants to, I'm not gonna" is a great mention. Clearly it's too specific to be random, but since its occurrence is unique, it's impossible to be sure whether the reference is specific, a generic literary dig at the irrationality of Abrahamic religions (talk about aging well!), or an established idiom. A bit more discussion found here. Appella(s) apparently became proverbial in the Renaissance, but now as a recherchée, literary dictum.


I'd love to be able to offer some more colourful expressions, but my general impression is that their presence in a language is strongly correlated with the presence of verbal taboos. The Roman culture placed a lot of emphasis on taboo actions but not on taboo words; so I tend to think the absence of highly loaded words and expressions isn't as much an artefact of attestation as it is a genuine reflection of the language. Actual profanity was either of the religious kind, or relating to slavery and bodily punishment.

A good parallel can be seen in Lithuanian, which is famously said to have little in the way of native obscenities and had to borrow these from Russian and lately English. Hell, even Russian doesn't make any use of defecation-related vocabulary to mean "lies" or "nonsense" - instead it goes for the sound that female genitalia produce when expelling air (пиздеть, pizdétʲ). On that basis I would expect some flatulence-related words (pēdere) to be used for this in Latin, but I don't recall seeing evidence for this.

Linked papers:

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  • Germans say "you can tell that to your grandmother" (i.e., but not to me), apparently predicated on the premise that mild-mannered grandmothers are unlikely to call out tall tales told by their own grandchildren. So maybe Avia credat tua ... Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 12:13
  • @SebastianKoppehel Heh, Russian has this exact expression too: расскажи это своей бабушке. It's strictly for calling out lies, however. I don't think it's about mild manners as much as about old people's credulity. Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 12:34
  • For the origin of the name Apella, see this article from the Jewish encyclopaedia:- https//www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1629-apella Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 19:08
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    As to the gullibility of grandmothers in Latin, there is a reference to this in Persius, Satires 5, 91-92: disce, sed ira cadat naso rugosaque sanna, dum veteres avias tibi de pulmone revello ‘while I tear out the old grandmothers (i.e. old wives’ fables) from your lung. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 10:27
  • @Unbrutal_Russian: How does "di vostram fidem" (= "the gods to your faith"), translate to such awful expletives?
    – tony
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 13:34

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