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I was typing inarguably, but my spell checker complained and corrected it to unarguably. It's probably not the best spell checker, because I thought inarguably unarguably exists. I tried to Google it to see if there was a difference, but my search was inconclusive.

As adverbs the difference between inarguably and unarguably is that inarguably is indisputably; certainly, definitely; without the possibility of argument or debate while unarguably is not subject to question or doubt.

Source: https://wikidiff.com/unarguably/inarguably

To me that just sounds like two ways of saying the same thing. So I wanted to ask if there is an actual difference, if one is preferred over the other, and if they are favoured differently in different countries or regions.

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    I often think Wikidiff is written by a bot. Jun 11, 2020 at 20:00
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    Does "indisputably" express what you want to say? Then I'd suggest using "indisputably" instead, or a similar word such as "irrefutably". That implies that there is no way to argue that the notion is false. "Inarguably" or "unarguably" suggests that there is no way to argue that the notion is true.
    – Rosie F
    Jun 11, 2020 at 20:05
  • M-W seems to see them as spelling variants (click on the alter ego in the 'synonyms' list/s). Jun 11, 2020 at 20:36
  • Lexico has both, but refers inarguable to unarguable. Perhaps the former means there is no argument that can disprove something, whereas the latter means that the subject is not open to discussion. Jun 11, 2020 at 20:39
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    The trouble with Wikidiff is that it seems to be automatically composed, and often presents, side by side, words between which there is no difference in meaning, without explicitly saying so. Jun 13, 2020 at 9:15

3 Answers 3

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OED has the same meaning for both. This is unsurprising as the prefixes impart the same meaning:

in- (prefix)

Prefixed to adjectives and their derivatives, formed either in Latin, as inept adj., inform adj.1, infortunate adj., or in English, as inartful adj., informal adj., infortitude n., with the sense ‘not (that which is expressed by the base word)’.

Found frequently in borrowings from Latin, either directly or via French, from at least the 13th century,

un- (prefix)

1.a.i.

Old English–

Prefixed to adjectives to express a negative sense, forming adjectives (and derived nouns).

Found in Old English.

I found the following on Quora:

In most dictionaries both words have the same meaning but they are of course not the same word.

In day-to-day use unarguably is less certain - cannot be reasonably argued, whereas inarguably is, in common speak, dead certain not arguable.

However, given the etymology and the absence of support from a reliable dictionary, I would dismiss the idea.

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Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) provides the following entries for inarguably and unarguably:

inarguably adv (1925) : it cannot be argued : UNQUESTIONABLY <inarguably December is the best month for retailers>

...

unarguably adv (1929) : it cannot be argued : UNQUESTIONABLY

So according to Merriam-Webster, the difference is ... that inarguably is four years older thn unarguably (and its entry includes an example of the word in action, while unarguably's does not).

An Ngram chart of inarguably (blue line) versus unarguably (red line) for the period 1850–2019 shows a remarkable parallelism in growing popularity—albeit offset by 20 years:

That was the combined Ngram chart for the corpus English. Here is the corresponding chart for the corpus American English:

And here is the one for the corpus British English:


Early instances of 'inarguably' and 'unarguably' in the wild

Given how close together the first occurrences of inarguably and unarguably noted by the Eleventh Collegiate are, I expected both words to be about equally common in the early days of their appearance in English. In searching for very early occurrences of the two terms, however, I found considerably more early instances of unarguably, starting with this one from "The Vacancy in East Sydney," in the [Grafton, New South Wales] Clarence and Richmond Examiner (January 27, 1883):

Looking however, at the position the Doctor took up in that wonderful thread of confessions of former weaknesses to which he gave expression, and in which he informed us that all along he had been opposed to the Land Bill, he completely condemned himself and proclaimed unarguably his want of ballast, in that having held certain opinions when this measure was under discussion in the House, and before the country, he deliberately sank his convictions (if we are to believe his own words), and lauded and recommended the perpetuation of a system he conscientiously believed to be rotten, as the alternative to manfully resigning the office with £500 a year, he held—an office to which till the last he clung ...

From Lord Chancellor Halsbury's judgment in "Economic Life Assurance Society v. Usborne and Others" (November 12 & 14, 1901), in The Law Times Reports of Cases Decided in the House of Lords, the Privy Council, the Court of Appeal ... from September 1901 to February 1902 (1902):

For these reasons it seems to me that on the first point the appellants are unarguably wrong, and that on the second, speaking with all respect for the court below, they are unarguably right.

From "M'Gowan and Blackmore at the Gaeity: A Disappointing Battle Ends in a Draw: Twenty Rather Tame Rounds," in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Referee (April 2, 1902):

The fact that it takes two men to make a fight has rarely been more unarguably exemplified than at the Gaiety on Monday night last, when Jack Blackmore kept Jack M'Gowan jigging about tho ring round after round till twenty had been gone through.

From "Auspicious Launching of the National: Good Fights and a Huge Attendance: Billy M'Coll Wins the Championship," in the [Sydney, New South Wales] Referee (October 15,, 1902):

The speaker concluded by introducing the club's official referee, Mr Harry Beckett, who met with a most flattering reception. Harry is unarguably the man for the occasion ; he knows the game from Alpha to Omega, is as honest as the sun, straight as a die, determined, intelligent above the average, and has a fine knack of sizing up a situation, be it ever so exciting, quick as a flash. What more is wanted in a referee?

From appellants' brief in "Foote v. Leary" (recorded April 1, 1903), in New York Court of Appeals: Records and Briefs (1909):

It is manifest that the jury might most conscientiously have found that the representations were material. The matters omitted or falsely stated seem patently and unarguably vital to the determination of purchasing and the price and terms. If the evidence did not undisputedly show them material, the question as to their materiality was for the jury.

From "The Naval Review," in The Spectator (May 11, 1912):

What Mr. Churchill said at the Academy banquet was beyond reproach. "The best way," he said, "to make war impossible is to make victory certain." That is the eternal paradox and the eternal truth of national defence. No one who looks at the facts can possibly question it. Why has the Navy not been called upon for a hundred years to undertake fighting on a grand scale? Because of its great strength. There is no other answer. So long as the Fleet remains unarguably more powerful than any other other Navy it will not be challenged.

From "Holiday People" in the Sydney [New South Wales] Morning Herald (October 8, 1912):

We are known about the world as an amusement-loving people, and that not only by reason of our many holidays but by our unceasingly strong support of the recreations of life. In sport that is unarguably so and in other recreative interests it is easily demonstrated.

From "Dramatists of To-Day: J. M. Synge," in The British Review (January 1914):

The conception of "Deirdre" is noble and classic, but it gives one at times an unpleasant sensation to find the pure rhythms of the piece broken with uncouth expressions, with phrases of dialect that bear unarguably upon them the stamp of words that have never risen above a certain level of intensity and truth.

From Hilaire Belloc, "Why England Fights Germany,"in the New York Times (January 17, 1915):

The cardinal point of statesmanship upon which all English foreign policy has turned for two hundred years, that no one shall be more powerful at sea than England, especially upon the shores of the narrow seas, appears to foreigners unarguably arrogant.

The 1925 instance of inarguably that Merriam-Webster cites as the earliest published occurrence of the word in English may be from F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925):

"I like her," said Daisy, "I think she’s lovely."

But the rest offended her—and inarguably, because it wasn’t a gesture but an emotion. She was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented "place" that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village—appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.

Nevertheless, that is not the earliest published occurrence of inarguably that my database searches turned up. From "Dan Crawford: What He Is Seeking," in the [Perth, Western Australia] West Australian (January 7, 1915):

Dropping into a seat, he started in what seemed to be the middle of an interview, reeling off impressions, answering imaginary questions, and dissipating possible objections with a fluency that would require a small Hansard staff to record. When the lassoo of his interviewer's protest made him take breathing time, he said that he had "a lot yet to see," end that "America was inarguably the greatest country on the planet earth," and that "Australians were much better than they pretended to be." He seemed to say the three things at once.

Still, as of January 17, 1915, I count nine unique matches for unarguably and one for inarguably.


Conclusion

Merriam-Webster's view in 2003 that inarguably appeared in print earlier than unarguably is not supported by searches of the book and periodical databases that I checked.

Instances of unarguably go back at least to 1883, while the earliest instance of inarguably I found is from 1915. Merriam-Webster is probably right, however, in asserting that the two words carry essentially identical meanings.

Historically, unarguably seems highly likely to have arisen in the UK. At any rate, searches for unarguably and inarguably at British Newspaper Archive (a pay site that I do not subscribe to) for the period 1801–1915 yield almost two dozen claimed matches for unarguably and zero for inarguably.

Some of these claimed matches are undoubtedly false positives, but others may well turn out to be legitimate. For example, a snippet from an article in the [Lanarkshire, Scotland] North British Daily Mail of January 21, 1850, titled "Melting of Schoolma3ters" [that is, "Meeting of Schoolmasters"] includes the phrase "we regard the existing state of national education to be 'unarguably delicieet," which might turn out to be a saying that the author regards the existing state of national education to be "unarguably deficient."

Likewise, a snippet of an item in the February 4, 1882, Alderley & Wilmslow Advertiser in Cheshire, England, reports an instance that works out to something like this: "You are not probably yourself aware bow ['how', probably] unarguably lowered is your whole physique from the operant fret of mind ageing on it, ..."

A snippet from an item in the Sheffield [England] Daily Telegraph (March 15, 1888) reads as almost normal English, despite the site's rather iffy OCR performance: "... necessitates a give-and-take policy. Well, be it so. Let us-take time, that we may make an end the sooner of the the unarguably bad, the utterly imbecile fiscal j system which raises revenue by taxing the raw products of our fellow subjects and best ..."

And an item in the [Dublin, Ireland] Flag of Ireland (December 23, 1893, comes through in crystalline English: "... many and many a year under Home Rule, even if Home Rule were to come to-morrow. is a depressing reflection, but it seems unarguably true. A defeat at Clontarf with Brian left living, would have been better than the victory with Brian dead."

Whether inarguably originated in the United States or not, it clearly owed its ascent to U.S. usage, starting in the 1920s. Overall, as of 2019, the Ngram charts presented above suggest that unarguably is more common than inarguably in British publishing and that the opposite preference exists in U.S. publishing.

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INarguably sounds like: My belief is that this is quintessentially incorrect,whereas, UNarguably sounds like: I won't even bother to argue this at all.

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