New Word #7: Can’t Describe It

Many of us grew up with simple native languages with about 3000 basic words –the rest is just a mixture and extension of these basic building blocks. We are in for a big shock when we realize that English has so many words. One concept can be described by ten to twenty different words, each harboring subtle differences, ready to push non-native speakers into a gaffe at the slightest provocation. Here is an example.

There are many words to describe the fact that something cannot be described. I am sure there are more of them out there that I don’t know.

  • ineffable: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words.
  • indescribable: too unusual, extreme, or indefinite to be adequately described.
  • inexplicable: unable to be explained or accounted for.
  • indefinable: not able to be defined or described exactly.
  • unexplainable: unable to be explained or accounted for.
  • inexpressible: (of a feeling) too strong to be described or conveyed in words.
  • unutterable: too great, intense, or awful to describe.
  • unspeakable: not able to be expressed in words.
  • unmentionable: too embarrassing, offensive, or shocking to be spoken about.
  • speechless: unable to be expressed in words.

There is also a group of words that leans more towards the incomprehension rather than the ineffability. It is still indescribable, but the reason for being indescribable comes from the incomprehension rather than anything else.

  • inscrutable: impossible to understand or interpret.
  • unfathomable: incapable of being fully explored or understood.
  • incomprehensible: not able to be understood; not intelligible.
  • impalpable: not easily comprehended.
  • impenetrable: impossible to understand.
  • intangible: difficult or impossible to define or understand; vague and abstract.
  • unreadable: not capable of being processed or interpreted
  • unintelligible: impossible to understand.

There are another group of words that can be synonyms to indescribable but the emphasis of the meaning varies.

  • inarticulate: unable to speak distinctly or express oneself clearly.
  • nondescript: lacking distinctive or interesting features or characteristics.
  • inconceivable: not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable.
  • unthinkable: (of a situation or event) too unlikely or undesirable to be considered a possibility.
  • unimaginable: difficult or impossible to imagine or comprehend.

Please let me know if you have used any one of these or know any other “indescribable” words. Also how many shades of indescribable are there? Indescribable due to greatness, incomprehension, horror, stutter…

26 thoughts on “New Word #7: Can’t Describe It

  1. “inconceivable” is one of my favorites because of The Princess Bride. Haha. But seriously, great observation. In my experience when trying to write in my native language (Filipino), there are words in English that has so many synonyms or nuances but when I try to translate to Filipino we only have one or two possibilities. I enjoyed reading all the other comments too!

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    1. That’s so true. Many languages want to facilitate the communication by easy vocabulary, often with new words extending from the old words. That’s not English, which desires nuances and complication just like a child desires more toys. LOL. I love “inconceivable”, but for a different reason–it is the opposite of “conceivable” and similar in spelling to “conceit”. I’ve heard about “The Princess Bride” so many times but never have the chance to read it or to watch the movie. Now I want to know about it more than ever.

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        1. LOL. I will try to get the book or the movie to watch. I am not very good with fantasy kind of books or movies, which is why I’ve been delaying the movie (or the book) for so long.

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  2. I’m speechless as to how I feel. It’s utterly unutterable, unspeakable, indescribable! I wish I wasn’t in such a loss for words, but I am so inarticulate with my words and unintelligible with my sentences. How can I describe something so unfathomable . . . it is inconceivable!

    That was a fun writing exercise.

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  3. Thanks for the list. In scanning through it I noticed that some of these words seem to attract other words – as a sort of knee-jerk reaction. For example: inexpressible joy, unutterable garbage, unspeakable horror, impenetrable jargon, intangible benefits, inarticulate ramblings, unimaginable suffering, etc. It’s almost as though our minds run along certain predetermined rails when we use these words – but I suppose that’s how all language works, unless we make a conscious effort to break free from it.

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    1. That’s true. Somehow there are methods in this mess. For example inexpressible joy and unspeakable horror are regularly used and almost like fixed phrases. Variations are possible but it has its hidden ways. It’s not a random variation or casual combination. LOL.

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    1. LOL. Same here. This is why I am posting it, not only to vent my years of struggle with the language, but also to help people like me to deal with the vocab and the effect it brings.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, tell me about it. English has a lot of words but the usage is not casual and the method is not flexible. Often a little innocent variation becomes an embarrassment for a non-native speaker. For example, you can’t use “unspeakable” on many things you don’t feel like talking about at the moment.

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  4. I love your list. There’s a flip side to this massive English vocabulary. In a smaller, “simpler” language every word may have multiple meanings. This creates richness of a different sort. We find this in Te Reo (the Maori language): it is intensely metaphorical and poetic as a result.

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    1. Thank you for visiting. Yes, different people have different approaches towards language. Some prefer simple and some prefer being gregarious. I wonder if there are different philosophies being reflected here. LOL.

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    1. Thank you for visiting and commenting. I am only posting this to describe my own amazement that how many words are used to describe the indescribable. LOL. Love your story of your work and your writing and your career path. Wish to read more. πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘πŸ˜‰

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