alas!

eir0n

New Member
Polish, Poland
Hi everybody.

I came across this word in various books. I looked it up , and found out that it means unfortunately, but I'm curious if I could use it in a contemporary text?

I would appreciate any help.
 
  • Neever

    Senior Member
    Ireland
    Hi eir0n,

    I think if it was used today it would be in a funny or slightly sarcastic sense. I wouldn't just use it as a synonym of unfortunately.

    Neever
     
    Yeah, it's not just "unfortunately" either. I saw it in the first Harry Potter book. Near the end, Professor Dumbledore is trying a couple of Harry's Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. He says, "Alas! Earwax!" Kind've like Finally! Earwax! as he hadn't had an earwax-flavored bean before.

    It's really sad. I've read that book so many times. I've also read the others more than once. I know the Harry Potter series extremely well.
     

    Lemminkäinen

    Senior Member
    Norwegian (bokmål)
    Near the end, Professor Dumbledore is trying a couple of Harry's Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. He says, "Alas! Earwax!" Kind've like Finally! Earwax! as he hadn't had an earwax-flavored bean before.
    That's not exactly what it means though. It's more like "oh no!" - from dictionary.com:

    –interjection (used as an exclamation to express sorrow, grief, pity, concern, or apprehension of evil.)
    As has been mentioned, it's pretty archaic/old-fashioned (which explains why it fits in fantasy literature like "Harry Potter").
     
    It isn't exactly what it means, yes, I agree....

    It just seems to be one of those, that in different contexts, has different meanings...at least in modern context. At one time it may have meant something specific.

    It is an older phrase....And Dumbledore is older, probably speaks a bit more archaic, but the books are not written in archaic English.

    In that context, it could've been a combination of "finally" and "oh no" Dumbledore likes to find all flavors and I can't imagine earwax tasting so good.
     

    Lemminkäinen

    Senior Member
    Norwegian (bokmål)
    In that context, it could've been a combination of "finally" and "oh no" Dumbledore likes to find all flavors and I can't imagine earwax tasting so good.
    I'm still not sure I agree. Sure, there is perhaps a pragmatical meaning between the lines along the lines of "at last I found the last flavour", but if you look at it purely semantically, he's expressing his misfortune with finding the (disgusting) ear wax.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Alas is an interjection.
    This same skull,
    sir, was Yorick's skull, the king's jester.

    ...........

    Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
    of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
    borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
    abhorred in my imagination it is!
    Hamlet, Act V, Scene 1.
    An exclamation expressive of unhappiness, grief, sorrow, pity, or concern.
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    I learned the English word 'alas' from the song "Oh my darling Clementine":

    Ruby lips above the water,
    Blowing bubbles soft and fine
    But alas for me, I was no swimmer.
    So I lost my Clementine.


    The origin of this word is, of course, the French word "hélas" that means 'unfortunately, unhappily'.

    The French word "hélas" is only poetic today, I believe.

    I can't help telling a true story: Some thirty years ago we were some journalists in Paris, and before the official dinner we went to a bar to take a drink. Immediately there were a couple of (professional) girls suggesting a pleasant program for the evening and the night. As I was the only one of us who could speak French I tried to say in a polite way (in French, of course): "Alas, we have a program for tonight."

    My idea of "hélas" was "unfortunately". But the French girls laughed to pee in their pants when they heard me using that word.

    Well, we learn a new word every day!
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    Well, I picked these lines from the Internet:

    Ruby lips above the water,
    Blowing bubbles soft and fine
    But alas for me, I was no swimmer.
    So I lost my Clementine.

    But the third line should be:

    Alas for me, I was no swimmer

    If you try to sing it you'll see it immediately.
     
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