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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Fri Jan 27, 2006 11:35 pm

• ineffable •

Pronunciation: in-ef-ê-bêl • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Indescribable, which cannot be expressed in words. 2. Unspeakable, forbidden to be spoken, as the ineffable name of God.

Notes: Today's word is the negation of effable "utterable, pronounceable", which has slumped into disuse. The reason seems clear: all the words and sounds we utter are utterable (effable), so when would we need the word? It is the unutterable words like floccinaucinihilipilification for which we need a descriptive term. Since we avoid such terms, we seldom need words like ineffable. That is why its meaning has changed to either "indescribable" or "forbidden to be spoken".

In Play: This word is more often used to describe the indescribable, rather than the unspeakable: "Frieda Livery has an ineffable je-ne-sais-quoi about her that attracts men like moths to a candle." It can, however, still be used in that sense: "Since he accidentally scored the winning goal for the opposition, his name has become ineffable; they just refer to him as 'H' down in the athletic department."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes via Old French from Latin ineffabilis "unutterable", an adjective based on the prefix in- "not" + ex "out of" + fari "to speak". The past participle of fari is fatum, whose meaning migrated from "spoken" to "prophecy" to "doom" as it became Old French fat. We then borrowed it as fate. Fari also lies at the bottom of fabula "story (something spoken)", which the French compacted into fable before lending it to us. The present participle, fans, turns up in infans "not speaking", which English also borrowed from French, this time as infant. (Today's word is so good, it goosed Michigander Katy Brezger into sending it to us via the Alpha Agora. Thanks again, Katy.)
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Postby Apoclima » Sat Jan 28, 2006 4:52 pm

Well, what can I say?

'Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination.' -Max Planck

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Postby KatyBr » Sat Jan 28, 2006 5:08 pm

goosed? no doubt from Michigander lol that could have stayed ineffable.


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Postby gailr » Sun Jan 29, 2006 11:03 pm

Maurice Sagoff included Nabakov's Lolita in Shrinklets: 70 of the World's Towering Classics Cut Down To Size, using this WOTD in the process..."ineffable and yet, as effable as she could get". I think he successfully encompassed all the proper definitions without losing his pun with that phrase.

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