Are there idiomatic Latin exclamations similar to the English "oh no!" used when one finds oneself in an unfortunate situation?

The only thing that I came up with is that I might want to use vae or o one way or another, but I couldn't find anything natural and concise. O me miserum feels too long, but perhaps Latin has no shorter options. A short curse like malum! is an option, but the tone is different from "oh no!".


3 Answers 3


I think the word you want is ēheu, which L&S define as "an interjection of pain or grief".

It's often translated as "alas", mostly because it appears in epic poetry where a grandiose and formal translation is appropriate. But it's also common in the vulgar speech of Plautus, where I would translate it as "ah, f---" or some similar profanity.

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    For example, in school we would say "Eheu! Caesar mortuus est!" around this time of year. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 21:00
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    Eheu! Caecilius est in horto!
    – tox123
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 1:16
  • This is the perfect word, but "eheu" doesn't have any profane undertones, even in Plautus.
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 2:41
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    @brianpck Fair, though in modern English usage, I'd argue that something like "oh s---" isn't really meant to be profane: it's gotten semantically bleached into an expression of anger or dread or whatever without being meant to offend.
    – Draconis
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 2:47

Seneca the Younger gave the following irreverent account of Claudius' last words:

Ultima vox eius haec inter homines audita est, cum maiorem sonitum emisisset illa parte qua facilius loquebatur: "vae me, puto, concacavi me." Quod an fecerit, nescio: omnia certe concacavit.

These were the final words he was heard to utter among men, when he had let out a rather loud noise from that part with which he spoke more easily: "Oh dear, I do believe I've shat myself." Whether he did so, I don't know - he certainly did shit all over everything [as emperor].

Therefore vae me! seems another appropriate interjection.


Three options:

  1. heu

    In the Vulgata, rather than eheu, the word used to express something akin to "Oh no!" (and, as Draconis said, translated as alas!) is heu.

    For instance, a verse which clearly captures the meaning you intend is 2 Kings 6:15:

    Consurgens autem diluculo minister viri Dei, egressus, vidit exercitum in circuitu civitatis, et equos et currus : nuntiavitque ei, dicens : Heu heu heu, domine mi, quid faciemus?

    Which a direct translation (see link above) has it as:

    And the servant of the man of God rising early, went out, and saw an army round about the city, and horses and chariots: and he told him, saying: Alas, alas, alas, my lord, what shall we do?

    This is also attested in Classical Latin. E.g. see list here.

  2. ei

    According to L&S, this interjection is also used to mean "oh, alas!".

  3. atat and derivations

    This is an interesting option! It seems more like a malleable verbal expression than a proper word. L&S states that the options are:

    ătăt or attat , also several times repeated, atatatae, attatatatae, or atatte, atattate, etc.,

    which can be "an exclamation of joy, pain, wonder, fright, warning, etc.,"

So now you know. Attatatatae, merus novem dies donec Brexitus!

  • These are all nice suggestions, thanks! I assume ei is a single diphthong unlike the dative or plural ei. The third option is very appropriate for a very specific kind of a dire situation.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 15:31
  • @JoonasIlmavirta hahahaha hilarious. You are welcome. It's amazing that Latin, at least with the impression I have of it, has such open/dynamic expressions. Almost like slang.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 15:38
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    As for your third option, it's very interesting to note that in Calabria, Southern Italy, there still exists the dialectal interjection tettettettette! (read as if the last e were accentuated). Today, it expresses wonder and incredulity with respect to a negative news or situation. Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 4:38
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    Attat can express the same as that dialectal expression - "what a pity!", "oh no, really?", but it can just as well be used positively, for example when someone you've been looking for shows up. But I'm afraid it makes little sense in your Latin sentence, @luchonacho - the sentiment is something like "oh dear, I'd completely forgotten about Brexit and there's just 9 days left!". The rest of the sentence is also incomprehensible. If my guess is correct and you were going for "oh no, it's only nine days until Brexit", this can be said as "hei mihi, modo novem diēs supersunt ad Brexitum". Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 20:41

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