Printable Version
Pronunciation: ef-ê-bêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Utterable, pronounceable. 2. Which may be described or expressed in words. 3. Allowed or permitted to be uttered, as by a religion, the opposite of ineffable.

Notes: Today's Good Word belies the assumption that its antonym, ineffable, is an orphan negative. The problem with this word is that we find very few places to use it since most words we know are effable.

In Play: The most obvious situation in which today's Good Word fits is one involving profanity: "When the rocking chair pinched granddad's bare foot, he uttered a stream of words, few of which are effable in polite company." The more common negation of this word is used as a synonym of indescribable, as an ineffable view of the valley. The positive sense may also be used simply to imply that a word is pronounceable: "I'm afraid I can't say much about Imogene Ettasi's speech, because she used so few words that are even effable."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes pretty much straight from an Old French word derived from Latin ineffabilis. The Latin word is made up of in- "not" + effabilis "utterable". Effabilis was derived from the verb effari "to utter, express", and is itself a complex of ex "out (of)" + fari "to speak". The present participle of fari is fan(t)s "speaking". This word may be negated as infan(t)s "not speaking", one of the obvious characteristics of infants. The original root from which the Latin word derived was Proto-Indo-European bha-, which came to Old English as ben "prayer". Between Old English and Modern English this word became boon in the sense of a prayer answered, a great benefit. (We must now utter a completely effable word of gratitude to William Hupy for presenting us with the boon of today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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