Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Ineffable

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is ineffable. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Ineffable is used to describe something that is indescribable or unspeakable and that cannot be expressed in words. It is also used for things which are taboo and are not to be uttered.

// Ed felt an ineffable joy at the sight of his daughter walking toward him from the plane.

INEFFABLE in Context

“But onstage alone, talking to a crowd, he’s smooth as can be. A seductive presence, he has that ineffable quality of stardom: a preternatural ability to connect.” — Jason Zinoman, The New York Times, 28 May 2022

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 clear that ineffable means “indescribable” or “unspeakable.” And when we break the word down to its Latin roots, we 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, meaning “to speak.”

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