I think of an epiphany as a "eureka moment" as in a goldminer crying out, "Eureka!" upon discovering a vein of gold (I'm a native Californian (and former resident of Eureka), so that example comes readily to mind).

What about the opposite, though - an "Oh, no!" moment? Such as, "What I thought was gold turned out to be iron pyrite."?

Is there a word for it - an apiphany? Antipiphany? Malpiphany*? Or...???

  • Since "epiphany" seems to refer to a good sound (epiphone), would the opposite be a bad sound?
  • 27
    I think that most people will not apply epiphany to finding something physical, but rather to understanding something suddenly, or seeing something (a truth?) suddenly. Etymologically, it is something that appears to you, but usually not something actually physical. As for using eureka, that was originally about such a mental revelation, but it actually simply means you found something, whether that is a law of physics, or your lost car-keys. That said, I think Ronan's answer is a good shot :)
    – oerkelens
    Jul 29, 2014 at 16:17
  • 4
    On a slightly different note, epiphany has nothing to do with sound (phonos) :)
    – oerkelens
    Jul 29, 2014 at 16:20
  • 7
    I've always heard it called "Aw sh*t!"
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 29, 2014 at 19:57
  • 8
    I don't know what you call it, but its duration is an ohnosecond
    – Gus
    Jul 29, 2014 at 22:36
  • 2
    @HotLicks So it seems the opposite of epiphany could be prophany. ;) Jul 30, 2014 at 10:04

10 Answers 10


Epiphany has nothing to do with phones—it is etymologically an ‘out-showing’ or manifestation, and until recently was used primarily for the manifestation of a divine being: most often, as in the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the world at large.

The modern sense derives primarily from the work of James Joyce (though he had predecessors), who employed ‘epiphany’ to designate moments of revelation and insight, “a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself.”

But such an epiphany need not be a happy or triumphant moment; it is just as likely to be an insight into catastrophe or horror or even mere banality.

So in the sense in which you use epiphany, epiphany is its own antonym!


Disillusion (v.): to make someone realize that something which they thought was true or good is not really true or good:
I hate to disillusion you, but I don't think she's coming back.

Disenchantment (n.) [uncountable]: disappointment with someone or something, and no longer believing that they are good:
Voters expressed growing disenchantment with the government.

Letdown (n.): an event, performance, etc. that is not as good as you expected it to be:
The end of the book was a real letdown.

Anticlimax (n.): a situation or event that does not seem exciting because it happens after something that was much better:
Going back to work after a month travelling in China was bound to be an anticlimax.

  • 1
    Why use the adjective instead of disenchantment ? Jul 30, 2014 at 9:00
  • @ArlaudPierre The provided example for the adjective form in the dictionary suited this question better than the noun one; additionally it's good to have different parts of speech included. The noun form and the example is also available through the provided link. (:
    – Neeku
    Jul 30, 2014 at 12:04
  • Not a good excuse to have such inconsistencies bug me :-) Stating "disenchanted" as an opposite of "epiphany" (after all you didn't get any explanation, you only quoted definitions, not that it's a problem) makes me feel somewhat uneasy. Jul 30, 2014 at 12:16
  • There you go @ArlaudPierre. Although they say one isn't supposed to satisfy everyone, but I updated the answer to avoid bugging you! (: However, don't forget the first word is not a noun, but a verb. If I was the grammar ruler, I'd pick disillute as the verb, but no way!
    – Neeku
    Jul 30, 2014 at 13:15
  • didn't see that for I skipped the example, but: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/disillusion#Noun Jul 30, 2014 at 13:57

Verbmall has an interesting creation on the opposite of epiphany:

So, let me approach the question from an etymological perspective. An epiphany leads a person to a burst of internal light. We need a term to metaphorically express leading a person to a dark cave. Let’s save the epi-, meaning to, and let’s add the combining form -calyptry, from the Greek kalyptra, covered and hidden as by a veil.

Thus, we have epicalyptry [ep´-ee-cal-ip´-tree], deliberate concealment from self or resistance to insight. Spread the word, folks. Let’s get it into dictionaries.

While Urban Dictionary plumps for depiphany:


an epiphany that has been forgotten.

"I just had the most brilliant idea ever!"


"I forget."

"You had another depiphany?"

Although that's not exactly your interpretation.

  • 4
    +1 for each of them. They both address a different approach to epiphany, and I think the physical act of finding something, although eureka could be appropriate, would not often be associated with an epiphany.
    – oerkelens
    Jul 29, 2014 at 16:19

A sinking feeling or a stomach drop is what comes to mind.

"I had a sinking feeling as I realised that I hadn't confirmed the bookings for the flight we were heading toward."

"My stomach dropped when I realised that I'd accidently deleted all my work."


A generic word or phrase, like sudden realization, will do quite nicely. You can also get physical and refer to the pit of your stomach.

If you are looking for a cutesy or humorous term, Douglas Adams defines the following in The Meaning of Liff:

ELY (n.) — The first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.

WEMBLEY (n.) — The hideous moment of confirmation that the disaster presaged in the ely (q.v.) has actually struck.

GODALMING (n.) — Wonderful rush of relief on discovering that the ely (q.v.) and the wembley (q.v.) were in fact false alarms.


I think perhaps the word you're looking for is: "peripeteia"

  • "a sudden reversal of fortune or change in circumstances, especially in reference to fictional narrative."

It strikes me as a little odd that an experience that has such a universal applicability has no more familiar word. Who hasn't experienced that feeling of "Oh no, something really terrible and surprising just happened!"

  • "It strikes me as a little odd that an experience that has such a universal applicability has no more familiar word." True, but people usually respond with cuss/curse words (or "swears" as they're called in Wisconsin) instead of something more intelligent. Jul 29, 2014 at 20:48
  • I don't think there is necessarily a negative connotation to a peripety, it's just a reversal, could be from bad to good.
    – James
    Jul 30, 2014 at 4:35
  • It probably doesn't have to be a negative turn, but if you think about when this word is typically invoked (discussing tragic dramas -- like the archetypal "Oedipus Rex" for example), it's almost always used to describe a plot device that triggers the end of the play, and in a tragedy the direction would be toward some (typically surprising) negative.
    – Calphool
    Jul 30, 2014 at 15:20

Considering the meaning of epiphany you are suggesting (eureka moment), I think a fiasco can convey the idea of the opposite reaction:

  • a complete failure, esp one that is ignominious or humiliating

Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Fiasco


"Epiphany" means "sudden revelation" or "upon manifestation" when I look at the roots, so there is no direct positive connotation in the roots. I think you're looking for a specific word meaning "impending disaster" or "anxiety".

I would also think of things like "sinking feeling" and "deflation" as opposites of "epiphany"


In computer systems usability design, we jokingly refer to that as an onosecond - it's the amount of time that elapses between the time you click on the wrong thing, and the time you realize you can't undo the damage.

  • This would better be posted as a comment, not an answer. Actually, it looks like somebody already has.
    – dotancohen
    Jul 31, 2014 at 5:20

The opposite of an epiphany is a brain fart, of course.

While the meaning should be pretty obvious from the name, we have a little help below.


A brain fart (may be jocularly derived from "brainstorm")1 is slang for a special kind of abnormal brain activity which results in human error while performing a repetitive task,[2][3] or more generally denoting a degree of mental laxity or any task-related forgetfulness, such as forgetting how to hold a fork. Tom Eichele, a neuroscientist at the University of Bergen in Norway, was part of an international team of researchers who identified activity detectable in brain scans up to thirty seconds before a mistake, which could be referred to as a brain fart, occurs. The researchers suspect the abnormal behavior is the result of the brain attempting to save effort on a task by entering a more restful state. The scientific term given to this phenomenon is a "maladaptive brain activity change".[2]

Instead of a sudden realization - you get a sudden fart.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.