Surely you’re all pleased to discover new words, right? How many of you already knew this one:
- (formal, literary) That cannot be told; indescribable, inexpressible, unspeakable. ▲Synonyms: unnarratable; see 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)
- Beyond expression in words; unspeakable. [from 1450 ▲Synonyms: indescribable, inexpressible, unspeakable; see 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?
- (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.”