1

What is an appropriate translation for the word "alas" in the following sentence: "Alas, I am not available until a future date".

I have seen two expressions, Hélas, and malheureusement (which I understand to mean sadly).

I want to fully encompass the richness and the somewhat humorous grief that it has come to express in English.

3

Neither English, nor French native but I believe that hélas is the counterpart of "alas". wiktionary says

From Old French elas, variant of a las, from a (“ah”) + las, from Latin lassus (“weary”).

I believe thus that English "alas" and French hélas are like brother and sister. For further examples see here:

http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/h%C3%A9las

I would translate your sentence as:

Hélas, je ne serai pas disponible avant une date ultérieure.

EDIT

1) Based on @aCOSwt's comment:

They (i.e. alas and hélas) are not exactly as brother and sister. Alas cannot be used as a noun while hélas can be used as a noun (since the XVth century).

2) Based on @D. Ben Knoble's comment:

Hélas seems in more current usage in France than alas does in (American) English.

3) Extension of (2); comparison of alas and hélas frequency:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=alas&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Calas%3B%2Cc0

American English (even lower)

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=alas&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=17&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Calas%3B%2Cc0

French

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=h%C3%A9las&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=19&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Ch%C3%A9las%3B%2Cc0

EDIT 2

In the Greek language there is the world pheû. It means hélas. It would be interesting to see any connection between the etymology of hélas and the pheû.

  • You are correct. Apart from your like brother and sister... What they are not exactly. As far as I know, Alas cannot be used as a noun while Hélas can be used as a noun since the XVth century. – aCOSwt Oct 22 '18 at 20:41
  • Also, hélas seems in more current usage in France than alas does in American English – D. Ben Knoble Oct 22 '18 at 20:58
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    @aCOSwt do you have an example of "hélas" used as a noun ? For me it is primarily an interjection and its use like a noun is more like an exception. – radouxju Oct 23 '18 at 9:09
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    @radouxju : You are correct : Hélas! is indeed primarily an interjection. However, quoting phrases like "Il fit de grands hélas. Voyez le bel hélas." The Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française , (5th-8th editions) states that *"Il s'emploie quelquefois, familièrement, comme substantif." You can also view the frequency of such usage here : books.google.com/ngrams/… – aCOSwt Oct 23 '18 at 9:39

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