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INSCRUTABLE

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INSCRUTABLE

Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Jan 10, 2007 12:31 am

• inscrutable •

Pronunciation: in-scrut-ê-bêl • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Unfathomable, completely unintelligible, impenetrably mysterious.

Notes: Today's word is another ostensibly orphaned negative. Scrutable has been used but in marginal ways that suggest it was 'back-derived' from inscrutable. This adjective should mean "incapable of being scruted" but, of course, it doesn't. The verb with this stem is now scrutinize and its noun is scrutiny. An investigator, however, was occasionally called a scrutator from the 17th to the 19th centuries, suggesting that such a verb was at least in the back of speakers' minds then. If a scrutator scrutinizes something closely and carefully, he is scrutinous. If he still fails to understand it, it is probably because the object of his investigations is inscrutable.

In Play: Any unsolvable mystery is inscrutable: "There remain many mysteries of the universe that will remain forever inscrutable to us mortals." This suggests that the litmus test for today's Good Word is simply incomprehensibility, a quality found in many locations: "Trying to unscramble the inscrutable motivations of management at this place is not worth the effort."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the standard English rendering of Latin inscrutabilis "inscrutable", an adjective based on in- "not" + scrutari "to examine carefully". This verb is based on the noun scruta "trash". Know why? To trash something in Latin was quite different from trashing things in English. Trashing a room in Latin meant to search it thoroughly, even the trash. (Bill Guy sent us today's Good Word for some inscrutable reason but rather than scrutinize his motives, we simply thank him for the suggestion.)
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Postby Perry » Wed Jan 10, 2007 10:27 am

I don't know why, but inscrutable always makes me think of Charlie Chan.
"Time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening all at once. Lately it hasn't been working."
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Postby gailr » Wed Jan 10, 2007 8:20 pm

I love this word and have long advocated being inscrutable when ordering Chinese takeout with coworkers.
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Re: INSCRUTABLE

Postby Stargzer » Wed Jan 10, 2007 11:58 pm

Dr. Goodword wrote:...Scrutable has been used but in marginal ways that suggest it was 'back-derived' from inscrutable. This adjective should mean "incapable of being scruted" but, of course, it doesn't. The verb with this stem is now scrutinize and its noun is scrutiny. ...


Back when Nixon went to China, an underground paper in the DC area had a cartoon called The White Rabbit, in which a white rabbit dispensed various bons mots and assorted wisdom. One time the rabbit said that "... the Chinese should be wary of trying to be inscrutable with Dick Nixon, because he's proved on more than one occasion that he can scrut anyone."
Regards//Larry

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