If one dissects the word "ineffable", there are three main roots

  • in - not
  • able - able to be done
  • eff

The meaning of the root able implies that some part of the word before it must refer to an action. Given that in is solely and adverb in this case, that would, by default, make eff a verb. Knowing that eff is a verb with a meaning antonymic to the word as a whole, I assume that it means something to the effect of "to describe in words"

However, I have not yet found a dictionary that acknowledges this. They have acknowledged "effable",but not "eff". Is it simply a quirk of our language that the word is never used, or has my logic failed me somewhere?

  • 4
    eff has no meaning in English. We imported the word "effable" (effabilis) and "ineffable" (ineffabilis) as units from Latin, and only later* generalized the common pieces "-able" and "in-" to the meanings you find in dictionaries. "effa-" (from Latin effari, which as you surmise is related to speech) has never been used as an independent root in English. (* "later" meaning independently. They might have been active prior to importing the effable pair.)
    – Wlerin
    Apr 2, 2014 at 20:18
  • This is Off Topic General Reference, because any reasonable dictionary will give the etymology of "ineffable" Apr 2, 2014 at 21:25
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: You mean 'Eff Topic'.
    – Mitch
    Apr 2, 2014 at 22:20
  • 2
    @Mitch: No I effing well dont! Apr 2, 2014 at 22:30

2 Answers 2


The root of ineffable is not an English word *eff, but rather a Latin word, effari “utter” = ex + fari “speak out.”


Ineffable is from in + effor + ablis (not + speak + able). Effor means 'to speak' or 'to say out' or 'to utter'.

'Eff' doesn't necessarily have any meaning in English, or at least not in modern english where 'effable' and 'ineffable' are fairly archaic, but as a component the meaning is there.

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