Good Grief (was Re: OUAI = "DAMN"?)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Sep 15 1998 - 15:22:58 EDT

The thread appears to be endless, and also to be going in no particular
direction. Nevertheless, it HAS been diverting. I thought I'd try to
straighten out a couple items that seem crooked and obfuscate whatever
seems clear.

At 4:18 PM -0500 9/14/98, wrote:
>So is this word a compound of OU-A-EI? And if so, how does it work,
>and is it relevant?

No, it is not a compound. It appears to be a pure interjection, perhaps
onomatopoetic, of a conventionalized Mediterranean cry of doom. If there is
any element compounded within it (which I doubt), the candidate might be
AI: AIAI is the Greek conventional expression of grief, equivalent to a
deep wail of sorrow; the ancient Greek verb for wail in grief is AIAZW. In
the opening choral ode of Aeschylus' Agamemnon, the chorus uses as a
refrain the chant:

        "Shout woe, woe, but may what is well prevail!"

(It may be that AILINON is a compound of AI and the accusative of LINOS, a
figure of myth about whom little is known other than that he's had it: the
"LINOS song" is a dirge. I read somewhere (perhaps Fraenkel's commentary on
the Agamemnon) that AILINON might just possible derive from the Ionic
lament for Adonis ("Adonai") that could be aping the Semitic OI LANU, "Woe
unto us!" It's an intriguing thought, but perhaps pure speculation.

Somewhat similar is the expression of personal distress, OIMOI; that will
divide neatly into its elements: OI and MOI,and of course it means exactly
what it sounds like, "Woe is me!" or "Woe unto me!" Here too there is a
corresponding verb, OIMWiZW, "to utter OIMOI."

At 12:50 AM -0500 9/15/98, Ben Crick wrote:
> All my available English versions have "woe" for OUAI in Rev 8:13 and 9:12,
> except the "Good News Bible" ("Today's English Version": the one with the
> line drawings by Annie Vialotton) which translates "horror" and "horrors".
> "Horror" comes from the Latin /horresco/, the standing up of the hairs on
> the nape of the neck. Horror me harum tubarum [shudder]; or is it Harum
> Scarum? The Vulgate has /vae vae vae/ (transliteration of OUAI). I suppose
> the Latin for OUAI is /Eheu/.
> Eheu... <sigh>

Well, HORREO does mean "bristle" and more than anything else seems intent
to suggest hairs standing on end; might suggest gooseflesh too, I suppose.

BUT: I don't think that VAE in the Vulgate is a transliteration of the
Greek OUAI; in fact VAE is pretty old in Latin; it's as likely that OUAI in
Greek is a transliteration of the Latin VAE that had the same sense as an
interjection. But what is more likely still is that this doleful sound
produced by both the Latin and the Greek spelling is a common Mediterranean
conventional sound of grief.

Finally, the Latin for OUAI is not EHEU but VAE. HEU or EHEU is yet another
interjection that voices self-pity (what would come to verbal expression in
something like ME MISERUM!). One does see HEU used almost casually in
Latin, but the real expression of grief requires that prothetic E. Anyone
who has ever read Horace's lament on the passage of youth (and middle age)
will remember the way it starts:

        LABUNTUR ANNI ...

        "Good grief! so fleeting, Postumus, Postumus,
        the years slip by ..."

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