1 a : incapable of being expressed in words : indescribable
b : inexpressibly bad : unspeakable
2 : not to be uttered : taboo
Did You Know?
"Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness," wrote Frederick Douglass in his autobiography. Reading Douglass's words, it's easy to see that ineffable means "indescribable" or "unspeakable." And when we break down the word to its Latin roots, it's easy to see how those meanings came about. Ineffable comes from ineffābilis, which joins the prefix in-, meaning "not," with the adjective effābilis, meaning "capable of being expressed." Effābilis comes from effārī ("to speak out"), which in turn comes from ex- and fārī ("to speak").
"Undaunted, in 'Why You Like It' Nolan Gasser attempts to explain the ineffable ways music produces sensations in listeners' brains: its power to move people to tears, evoke awe and induce involuntary toe-tapping." — The Economist, 27 Apr. 2019
"Such haziness was inevitable, because the questions Buber was trying to answer were the most ineffable ones of human life: What is the meaning of our existence? How can we achieve the feeling of wholeness that we so painfully lack?" — Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, 29 Apr. 2019
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Word Family Quiz
What adjective is derived from Latin fārī and means "characterized by ease and friendliness"?VIEW THE ANSWER
Theme music by Joshua Stamper ©2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP