A new word for me!

Surely you’re all pleased to discover new words, right? How many of you already knew this one:

inenarrable (comparative more inenarrablesuperlative most inenarrable)

  1. (formalliterary) That cannot be toldindescribableinexpressibleunspeakable. ▲Synonyms: unnarratablesee also Thesaurus: indescribable

Sherwood Smith used “inenarrable” in the last part of the last book of her Norsunder War series. From context, I thought I might have used ineffable in that sentence. I immediately looked up “inenarrable” vs “ineffable,” and sure enough, they are apparently basically synonymous. Look:

ineffable (not comparable)

  1. Beyond expression in wordsunspeakable. [from 1450Synonyms: indescribableinexpressibleunspeakablesee also Thesaurus: indescribable.

Interesting that “ineffable” doesn’t get (formal, literary) in front of the definition. It’s certainly a formal, literary sort of word. It can’t be a whole lot more widely known that “inenarrable,” I’d think, even though I don’t remember ever encountering the latter before in my life.

I would say that these two words are very close together in meaning, but the “unnarratable” quality of “inenarrable” may make it a little different.

I’d also say that “unspeakable” is barely okay as a synonym for either one. That’s because the implication of “ineffable” is highly positive, while the implication of “unspeakable” is highly negative. They aren’t exactly antonyms because I can imagine using “unspeakable” as in “a feeling of grace too great to be put into words,” which would make it into a more synonymous word. But that would usually be “unspoken,” not “unspeakable.”

I will add, Sherwood ALSO used the world “chatoyant,” which has been one of my favorite words since CJ Cherryh taught it to me by using it in her Foreigner series. Does anybody know if the 22nd book in that series is expected in 2023?

chatoyant (comparative more chatoyantsuperlative most chatoyant)

  1. (jewelry) Having a certain optical reflectance effect, which can be likened to the sheen of a spool of silk. ▼chatoyant effect

I’ve used “chatoyant” myself now and then since learning the word, most particularly in The Floating Islands, to describe the eyes of the wind dragons.

If you’ve got a favorite obscure word, by all means drop it in the comments! We can all see if anybody’s got one more obscure than “inenarrable.”

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10 thoughts on “A new word for me!”

  1. I have not previously looked up the definition of “ineffable,” and from my first encounter with it in GOOD OMENS I’d construed it as something like “beyond comprehension / understanding,” as in the ineffable workings of God. So I have now learned something (two somethings) today! I’ve never encountered “inenarrable” either.

    My new word of the week is “ruelle” for the passage between the bed and the wall (and by extension, that side of the bed against the wall). Apparently used as a gathering place for fashionable 17th and 18th century French ladies receiving their friends while still in bed! (I’m not going to do that, but I AM going to use that word the next time I drop my glasses in the ruelle).

  2. Ineffable is a lot more common, so much so it has led to the humorous backfotmations effable and simply eff. Google trends confirms: it’s two orders of magnitude. Plus, I have actually heard the term before and even used it.

  3. Same here. I’m familiar with ineffable and had never heard of inenarrable (and had to scroll up in the post to even spell it here). When I saw it at the front of the post I wondered if it was a typo!

  4. I don’t think it’s especially obscure to native speakers? Maybe? But I love serendipity – from its meaning to the way it’s pronounced ^^

  5. It is a good word, and fairly well known. Now I want a world map–or possibly just a map of Asia–with Sri Lanka labeled Serendip, and subtitled (Taprobane.) And other historic and wonderful names elsewhere. Compleat with sea monsters and terra incognita.

  6. Remember that “Here there be dragons” goes approximately in the vicinity of the Komodo dragon.

  7. I like ‘inculcated’, which is to impress an idea by steady repetition. I also like ‘petrichor’, which is the smell of the earth just as it begins to rain. Living in a mostly arid region, I don’t smell it often, and it’s always a joy when I do! And I’m fond of the shade of green that is viridian – it sounds delightful and is a beautiful color. In the same vein, ‘susurrate’ – the soft, whispery sound that leaves or grass make in a light breeze. Are they super obscure words? I don’t know, but I like them and use them whenever I get the chance.

  8. I used to like petrichor, then self-published stories suddenly were using it everywhere, and I am now extremely hostile to it.

    i’ve actually heard inculcated used, as well as ineffable. Haven’t ever run across inenarrable before this post.

    The one really new word to me recently was ‘saccade’. Which is from the French for ‘twitch’ and is the term for the movement of the eye, as in reading. It was used in narrative correctly. The narrative POV was somewhat odd, so the term fit the linguistic style/register.

  9. I have never actually used “petrichor.” I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever seen it in a story. I’m not sure I have!

    I do like “saccade,” though I don’t think I’m likely to use it myself. I like inculcated! I should try to use that now and then. I love “susurration” and I’m sure I’ve used it now and then.

    So many great words in the world!

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