Listening in to any conversation, one will quickly realize that people don't always know what they are going to say when they start speaking. This causes them to say things like "ummm," "uhhh," or "ahhh." Each of these have their own nuances in usage in English, but many are found in other languages (whilst in Italy one summer, I frequently heard "ahhh" used in a similar manner as that found in English). Another interjection with its own nuances is "huh." This is either used as an extremely passive acknowledgement of something one has heard or found interesting, or as an interrogative when one does not understand a concept. This question about conversational softeners (specifically this comment) was what inspired this question, as oftentimes these interjections are used as conversational softeners themselves. These interjections are hardly ever written out in formal writing, and are hardly words like the ones discussed in the answers to the linked question. So, (see what I did there?) what would be the Latin equivalent of these interjections? Most are just vowel sounds, and might not be language specific, but I would still be interested in knowing whether or not instances of their usage exist.

Here are some common English interjections of the type I have discussed, and their definitions:

um- used as an expression of doubt, hesitation, deliberation, interest, etc.

uh- used to indicate hesitation, doubt, or a pause

ah- used as an exclamation of pain, surprise, pity, complaint, dislike, joy, etc., according to the manner of utterance

huh- used as an exclamation of surprise, bewilderment, disbelief, contempt, or interrogation

hmm- used typically to express thoughtful absorption, hesitation, doubt, or perplexity

eh- an interrogative utterance, usually expressing surprise or doubt or seeking confirmation

er- used to express or represent a pause, hesitation, uncertainty, etc.

  • If anyone has any better tags, feel free to add them!
    – Sam K
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 23:49
  • 1
    @user26732 Then pointing out which muletillas were used in Latin would be a great answer! I find it difficult to believe that there is no equivalent of a sound of hesitation like "uhhh" in most, if not all languages, as it is more of a lapse in mind to speech continuity than a filler word. And I am hardly suggesting English is the end all be all in grammar and language. So when you make that little analogy at the end, an answer I would accept would be one were you could refute the idea Latin does have it in the form English has it, and then provide the nearest Latin equivalent. That is what
    – Sam K
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 1:58
  • 1
    these questions are for! So, in summary, what would be the Latin equivalents? They don't have to be just sounds and I wasn't necessarily limiting it to just that, but it is not a completely terrible question to ask whether or not Latin had something similar, seeing as interjections like "uhhh" are just sounds rather than words that express intent in a crude vocal form. In addition, according to your expressed logic, any translation question will not have an "expected" answer as the whole point of different languages is that they are all different in some discernible fashion. I don't understand
    – Sam K
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 2:01
  • 1
    how this question could be any different from any other. In fact, according to the translation question meta rules, you should show attempt to come up with your own solution, and is it completely out of left field for me to suggest that they also used sounds? I don't think so! Gosh, this ended up being longer than I expected... :D
    – Sam K
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 2:06

2 Answers 2

  • Hmm, it seems that vah/uah was an all-purpose interjection that fits some of your purposes. The Oxford Latin Dictionary notes that it was "an exclamation expressing any of various emotions ... pain, dismay, vexation, contempt for a person or idea, admiration, surprise."

Some examples:

vah, bella res est volpis uda!

Huh, a bedraggled fox is a fine creature!

Petronius, Satyricon, 58

vah! quam vellem etiam noctu amicis operam mos esset dari!

Oh! How I wish it was the custom to offer services to friends at night as well!

Terence, The Brothers, act 4, scene 1

uah! egone ut ad te ab libertina esse auderem internuntius?

Bah! Would I dare to be a go-between for you from a freedwoman?

Plautus, The Braggart Soldier, act 4, scene 1

Related is vaha/uaha, which can express both pain or gratified surprise.

  • There's also a plain a in Plautus, which I interpret, in the context, as a sort of "um, what?":

a, perii? quid ita?

um, I’m dead? How so?

Plautus, Casina, act 3, scene 5

  • Elsewhere, a simple quid could be construed as "eh?":

“quid dixisti? quid? ita te fruar?”

“What did you say? Eh? So shall I enjoy you?”

Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae, 7.12

“Quid agebas” inquit “frater sanctissime? Quid? Vesticontubernium facis?”

“What are you driving at,” he said, “my ever so pure brother? Eh? Are you for a partnership-under-the-bedspread?”

Petronius, Satyricon, 11

  • Very interesting! Now, in your last example with quid, what construes it as "eh" rather than a repetition of "what?" for emphasis?
    – Sam K
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 1:56
  • 1
    @SamK Well, I think it's in the tone somehow. Both examples are dialogue of a very smarmy or sleazy kind and the "quid" is not seeking a genuine explanation or even an answer. It's there to insinuate something (unsavoury) unsaid but expected to be understood, hence "eh". I did write "could be construed" because I realise that the interpretation is subjective.
    – Penelope
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 2:02
  • This answer has been nominated as one of the best answers of the second half of 2017. (Sorry for being late with this note!)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 20:38

This isn't exactly authoritative, but the translator of Winnie the Pooh, A. Lenard, who had to deal with a variety of interjections, translates "O" (as in "O, mouse, thou hast....") as "O", "Oh" as "Oh", "aha!" as "eheu", and everything else is either "heu" or "heus". "Well, well, well" becomes "eheu, eheu, eheu". "Oh there you are." becomes "En, ages". His glossary defines "Eheu" as "Oh!" or "Ow!", "En" as "Lo", "Behold" or "There!", and "euge!" as "hurrah". - C. Lanz

  • 1
    Welcome! While the Latin translation of Winnie the Pooh is not an original classical piece of work, this is a good answer. (+1!) I hope you stay on the site for some more questions ans answers, and take a look at our tour.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 20:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.