I would like to have an idiomatic way to say "good news" and "bad news" in Latin. For example, I would like to be able to say "I have some good news" or "The bad news is that you need an operation". I found boni nuntii in Cicero's Ad Atticum 3.XI.1, and context suggests it means what I want. (The same phrase appears also in the Second Book of Kings, but it is in singular genitive.) However, I have been unable to locate a similar expression for bad news.

Are there attested examples in classical literature of something that means "bad news" in a way similar to how boni nuntii means "good news"? I believe mali nuntii (which I didn't find) would be understood perfectly, but I wonder if I'm missing an idiom here.


1 Answer 1


For what it's worth, I found Cic. Agr. 2.30, using the compound malus nuntius twice.

I am concerned, however, that this might not necessarily be the right answer: Just finding one example or two of something does not imply it is the way a Roman would have said it. Maybe they just used some other expression (not invoving nuntii at all) that sounded better to them (what about fabula, rumor? What if one of these has an intrinsic bad connotation?). I remember a professor of mine (he was a PhD in AI) using a very strange word/spelling, claiming it was right just because he googled it and there were results.

Pity that Linguee doesn't have Latin among its alternatives.

Edit: Apparently, Cicero also uses tristis fama to mean bad news (according to translation, bad meaning sad here, of course).

  • In that context (and in general) fama sounds more like "rumor" than "news". But I do like the phrase nevertheless. I actually begin to like the expression tristis nuntius quite a bit, attested or not.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 7, 2016 at 20:46
  • 1
    @JoonasIlmavirta I suppose that depends on what you mean by "news". Rumors often get reported on by the "news", but the Romans didn't have "news" in the same way we moderns do.
    – cmw
    Feb 13, 2023 at 2:39

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.