Ineffable – Concept, origin, how to express it and famous phrases

We explain what the ineffable is, its various meanings, how it is expressed and the origin of the term. Also, famous phrases about the ineffable.

Sometimes the ineffable can be expressed through art or metaphor.

What is the ineffable?

The ineffable It is what cannot be talked about, that cannot be said or cannot be explained in words. We generally use it to refer to something that is too subtle, abstract or fuzzy, or to experiences that are too overwhelming or shocking, which are reluctant to be expressed in language.

This term comes from the Latin ineffabilis, modern voice of the adjective inexfabilis, which is derived from the prefixes in, former, and the verb fari (“tell”). In other words, “what cannot be expressed”.

It is a term commonly used to refer to that which is “unnameable” (that is, taboo), such as the name of the Devil in the Christian imagination, or even death itself, or the name of God, which the Hebrews ancient times transcribed how YHWH is replaced when reading by Adonai (“The Lord”) or HaShem (“Name”).

The ineffable can also refer to something lacking in logic, or paradoxical or too complex to be mentally organized and expressed in words.

From this point of view, many philosophers have used the term to refer to a certain existential aspect of life, that is, to a certain point of view about existence that is very complex to transmit in an organized way, and therefore can only be express themselves through metaphors or replacements, as in art and poetry.

Phrases about the ineffable

Some famous phrases about the ineffable are:

  • “The ineffable perhaps provides the background against which what I might express acquires meaning” – Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher.
  • “Telling the truth is impossible; either it is nefarious, or it is ineffable ”- María Zambrano, writer.
  • “As a consumer of paint, I believe that its great role is precisely to provide the space that can be ineffable” – Le Corbusier, architect.