Annus Horribilis

Meaning of “Annus Horribilis”

The phrase “annus horribilis” is a Latin phrase which means “a horrible or terrible year”. The phrase can be used when you experience an unwanted circumstance, loss of loved ones, or some horrible event taken place in that year.

Origin of “Annus Horribilis”

It is stated that the earliest printed format of this phrase has appeared in The Guardian, an English newspaper, in its March 1985 publication. It goes: “Unlike the earlier Kostelec stories, however, The Engineer of Human Souls was written in exile in Toronto, where he was driven by the annus mirabilis, annus horribilis of 1968…”

The phrase also appeared when Queen Elizabeth II gave a message on Christmas in 1992. She referred to 1992 as “annus horribilis.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Farewell Annus Horribilis by Uriah J. Fields

Farewell annus horribilis!
This is my way of saying goodbye to
a horrible year.
Thank God it’s over.
It was a year when the Murphy Law
did not fail – “whatever could go wrong
did go wrong.”
It was a year when my dreams were
shattered, my hope almost died.
I was unable to laugh.
My tears dried up even while I was
crying in desperation.
It was a year when it seemed that
every minute, every hour, every day,
every week and every month – the
whole year – was filled with horrors.

These are the last verses of the poem. Here, the poet shows the literal use of this phrase, which means he had gone through the horrible year and faced various mishaps. The poet recounts the reasons including the Murphy Law, shattering of his dreams and other frustrations that became hurdles in his way to happiness. However, the word farewell with it marks a better future and hope for the poet.

Example #2

Thinking about Things and Other Frivolities: A Life by Edward Farley

“In these months both Doris and I were ambivalent about our options for our initial weeks in Basel. I needed a jump-start on speaking German, and the best opportunity was to spend a couple of months at the Goethe Institute in Germany. What we should have done was to find a way for Doris and the children to spend that period with relatives while I did language study in Germany. But there were problems with all of these plans. If Doris had stayed behind, show would face a trans-Atlantic flight with three small children, one of whom was an infant. Doris’s mother could not manage the family in her tiny apartment. Doris’s sister was showing signs of psychological breakdown and the family situation was highly unstable. Thus we chose take our apartment in Basel where family would reside, and except for a few weekend visits, I would live in Germany. It was not a smart decision. We boarded a Swiss Air Flight for Zurich where Pete Depdersen, an American student at Basel, met us. So began a year which can be called both annus mirabile and an annus horribilis.”

This extract has been taken from the autobiography of Edward Farley about his teaching assignments in different universities. The author recounts how he faced different situations when he had to learn the German language before taking up teaching assignments in Germany. He could not manage to make his children live without him as their relatives were also facing problems. However, he managed it that year when he also flew to Germany. Therefore, he calls that year ‘annus horribilis’ as well as ‘annus mirabilis’. It means that it was a horrible as well as wonderful year. The use of this phrase with its counter-phrase shows the balance.

Example #3

The Queen and Di: The Untold Story by Ingrid Seward

“Anus Horribilis”

“Nothing in her life had prepared the Queen for the troubles which overwhelmed her family in the years leading up to the denouement of her annus horribilis. She had dealt with bereavements, the suicide threats her sister had made during the breakdown of her marriage to Tony Armstrong-Jones, and her husband’s alleged infidelities. She had sad in counsel with nine prime ministers and visited most of the world’s countries. Over the span of half a century, she had met nearly all the great leaders of the age, some good, many bad, a few utterly deranged and handled them all with grace and finesse.”

Ingrid Seward was the editor of the magazine, Majesty, which made him capable of writing the biography of the Queen. This extract is taken from the chapter of the same title as the phrase. The phrase has also been used in the very first sentence but with the association of how bereavements, as well as opportunities, have led to her balanced life. The use of this phrase point to the mishaps she faced during her lifetime.

Example #4

Annus Horribilis by David Klaver

The novel shows the clever use of this phrase as its title. The story is set during the Nazis’ raid on the Jews in Alkmaar during 1944. The father asked his little son and others to hide. The Germans found the family but not the fourteen-year-old Victor, who lives to tell the tale. David Klayer has beautifully illustrated his life during that year. Therefore, the title of the novel depicts the theme well.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “The year 2005 will be remembered as an annus horribilis for the global economy and financial markets.”

Example #2: “That time has been like annus horribilis, as I cannot forget the horrible incidents occurred with me.”

Example #3: “Though this year has been annus horribilis, our family stayed together. That’s calls for a celebration.”

Example #4: “The year when 9/11 happened is called the annus horribilis of the United States.”

Example #5: “After losing to a weaker team, world cup year looks annus horribilis for Brazil.”