Indispensable Word: ALAS

4 Aug

romeo-juliet{Image via Wikimedia Commons}

As a bona fide language lover, I tend to a small menagerie of favorite words. There are words that, almost as onomoatopoeia, evoke exactly the feeling they mean, like peppy (you cannot say that word unpeppilly). There are words that are unusual and obscure enough that you can take self-satisfied delight in slipping it oh-so-casually into a sentence or conversation, like quaff or twee. There are words that are simply fun to say, like tintinnabulation. And there are words that are absolutely indispensable.

One of those words is alas.

It’s categorized as the most unstuffy of the parts of speech, an interjection. According to Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com, alas can be used to express all kinds of emotions: sadness, sorrow, disappointment, unhappiness, pity, concern, grief, or even “apprehension of evil.”

On the dramatic side of grief, we have Juliet’s lament, “Alas, poor Romeo! he is already dead.” In my own usage, though, I tend to use it a bit more casually, as a charming alternative to unfortunately.

First, it’s only four letters! Economy is so valuable when you’re trying to quickly text one-handed on a tiny screen.

Second, I like that it is slightly more optimistic and qué-será-será (which is generally my attitude anyway) than unfortunately. Compare, for example:

Sorry, I’m running 20 minutes late. Unfortunately, the train was delayed.

Sorry, I’m running 20 minutes late. Alas, the train was delayed.

Third, the more neutral connotation is particularly handy when you’re trying to distance yourself or others from blame for the grief.

Sorry, I’m running 20 minutes late. Alas, I slept through my alarm clock.

Sorry, I’m running 20 minutes late. Alas, baby pooped right before we had to leave.

Alas, mistakes were made.

The neutrality is also useful when you want to make excuses and express regret but are inwardly kind of #sorrynotsorry.

Sorry, we can’t make it tonight! Alas, it’s after baby’s bedtime.

Finally, it has pizzazz. It’s so much more fun to express your disappointment when you’re emulating a star-crossed lover.

Wish I could think of a sufficiently clever final example for this word. Alas.

**********

Do tell–what are your indispensable words?

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2 Responses to “Indispensable Word: ALAS”

  1. Jenny Williams August 9, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    Alas is a wonderful word, indeed! And I loved reading your argument for it. It makes me want to use it more often than I do. I love the word “truly”, and think it fortifies certain weak phrases beautifully. For instance, “I am really hungry right now. Truly.”

  2. brohammas August 13, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

    Perhaps.
    I may overuse the word but I don’t care. Or maybe I just don’t care to try to expand my vocabulary. Perhaps I just like slightly stuffy words that lack commitment. I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, I choose perhaps.

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