Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Incapable of being expressed; indescribable or unutterable. See Synonyms at unspeakable.
  • adj. Not to be uttered; taboo: the ineffable name of God.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Beyond expression in words; unspeakable.
  • adj. Forbidden to be uttered; taboo.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Incapable of being expressed in words; unspeakable; unutterable; indescribable.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Incapable of being expressed in words; unspeakable; unutterable; inexpressible: as, the ineffable joys of heaven; ineffable disgust.
  • That must not be spoken: as, the ineffable name. See Jehovah.
  • n. plural Trousers.
  • n. One who is not to be named; one who is too high in his profession or in the fashionable world to be named with others.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. too sacred to be uttered
  • adj. defying expression or description

Etymologies

Middle English, from Old French, from Latin ineffābilis : in-, not; see in-1 + effābilis, utterable (from effārī, to utter : ex-, ex- + fārī, to speak; see bhā-2 in Indo-European roots).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
First attested in 1450. From Middle French ineffable, from Latin ineffābilis, from in- ("not") + effor ("utter"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • It is a fond conceit of the superstitious Jews that his blasphemy was in pronouncing the name of Jehovah, which they call ineffable: he that made himself known by that name never forbade the calling of him by that name.

    Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume I (Genesis to Deuteronomy)

  • Something about the plastic face, a face frozen in an expression of ineffable sadness.

    THE FORBIDDEN GAME

  • You may give them all they need of food and drink and make the conditions of their existence as favorable as possible, and they may grow and bloom, but there is a certain ineffable something that will be missing if you do not love them, a delicate glory too spiritual to be caught and put into words.

    An Island Garden

  • "Weep then, my word ineffable!" cried Malcolm, and laid himself again at her feet, kissed them, and was silent.

    The Marquis of Lossie

  • I stood upon the gulf which girds my dwelling: in one hand, I held my sacred talisman, that bears the name ineffable; in the other, the mystic record of our holy race.

    Alroy The Prince Of The Captivity

  • The word ineffable, is important here, Those that practice the art of negative theology, whether within the Abrahamic tradition or not, will always ascribe God as being unknowable, yet paradoxically knowable through this form of theology, though of course not at the anthropomorphic level.

    The Student Operated Press

  • Sometimes he introduces himself by the same method to the imagination; and sometimes he addresses the mind in a manner ineffable, which is called Inspiration.

    The Works of James Arminius, Vol. 1

  • This word, when thus pronounced, is called the ineffable word, which cannot be altered as other words are, and the degrees which you have received, are called, on this account, INEFFABLE DEGREES.

    The Mysteries of Free Masonry Containing All the Degrees of the Order Conferred in a Master's Lodge

  • She recalled the ineffable scenes of the passion, the burial and the resurrection.

    Balthasar and Other Works - 1909

  • Regardless, Hochschild reminds us once again of a simple truth we can never hear too often yet seem incapable of remembering, namely the ineffable horror of war.

    The Seattle Times

Comments

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  • "I rang for Françoise to ask her to buy me a guidebook and a timetable, as I had done as a boy when already I wanted to prepare in advance a journey to Venice, the fulfilment of a desire as violent as that which I felt at this moment. I forgot that in the meantime, there was a desire which I had attained without any satisfaction—the desire for Balbec—and that Venice, being also a visible phenomenon, was probably no more able than Balbec to fulfil an ineffable dream, that of the Gothic age made actual by a springtime sea, that now teased my mind from moment to moment with an enchanted, caressing, elusive, mysterious, confused image."
    -- The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright, p 558 of the Modern Library paperback edition

    February 11, 2010

  • See also the OCSJTS tag.

    July 12, 2009

  • See also unfuck, I guess... ^^

    July 5, 2009

  • determinedly chaste

    (Lewis M Gediman : Semantricks)

    January 8, 2009

  • Something that it is impossible to apply the f word to.

    July 31, 2008

  • "And this impression would continue to envelop in its liquidity, its ceaseless overlapping, the motifs which from time to time emerge, barely discernible, to plunge again and disappear and drown, recognised only by the particular kind of pleasure which they instil, impossible to describe, to recollect, to name, ineffable—did not our memory, like a labourer who toils at the laying down of firm foundations beneath the tumult of the waves, by fashioning for us facsimiles of those fugitive phrases, enable us to compare and to contrast them with those that follow."
    -- Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, p 228 of the Vintage International paperback edition

    January 13, 2008

  • Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable, let's prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all. - Dirk Gently

    February 7, 2007