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Does the root for "ineffable," which I imagine is "eff," have anything to do with the four letter word "f---?"

asked 2017-11-04 13:37:52 -0400

Randi gravatar image

updated 2017-11-09 09:39:49 -0400

ksteimel gravatar image

I am a retired math teacher and grandmother who loves words. I was thinking about the word "ineffable," and I imagined the word "effable," which would mean "able to be effed." Since "ineffable" has the sense of "not able to be understood deeply (my words)," I guess that "eff" would mean '" to understand deeply." Then I wondered if this could connect to the origin of the four-letter word "f---" (which maybe the computer wouldn't send - I don't know). Any ideas?

Many thanks!

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answered 2017-11-09 15:20:30 -0400

Hi! “Ineffable” comes from Latin through French. Its Latin root, “fāri”, just meant “to speak”, and it’s the same root you find in a word like “infant” (who, in an etymological sense, is someone not (yet) being able to speak). In its etymological sense, something ineffable is something that cannot be said. It is not related to “to eff”, which is an euphemism that only dates back less than a century. Interestingly, the word “effable” actually exists, but it’s obsolete.

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answered 2017-11-09 13:02:50 -0400

Kacma gravatar image

One great online resource for this type of question is Etymonline.com. if you search for 'ineffable' there, it tells you that that word isn't as transparent as one might think. It comes from Latin 'ineffabilis', where the base isn't 'eff', but 'effari', which just means 'to utter'. 'Ineffably' thus literally means 'inexpressible' or 'too great for words', with which 'not to be understood deeply' is connected.

Generally in etymology, you do not find the strategy of word formation you imagined - it would be unexpected/weird for the base of a word to be such a euphemism, especially if the word hasn't cropped up only recently.

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Asked: 2017-11-04 13:37:52 -0400

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Last updated: Nov 04 '17