Ineffability is concerned with ideas that cannot or should not be expressed in spoken words (or language in general), often being in the form of a taboo or incomprehensible term. This property is commonly associated with philosophy, aspects of existence, and similar concepts that are inherently "too great", complex, or abstract to be adequately communicated. In addition, illogical statements, principles, reasons, and arguments are intrinsically ineffable along with impossibilities, contradictions, and paradoxes. Terminology describing the nature of experience cannot be properly conveyed in dualistic symbolic language; it is believed that this knowledge is only held by the individual from which it originates. Obscene profanity and vulgarisms, however, can easily (and clearly) be stated – but they simply should not be and so are still considered ineffable.

Notable quotationsEdit

"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." — Ludwig Wittgenstein
"What we can't say, we can't say, and we can't whistle it either." — Frank P. Ramsey
"The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; the name that can be named is not the eternal name." — the Tao Te Ching
"We shall grapple with the ineffable, and see if we may not eff it after all." — Douglas Adams in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
"I'm in the business of effing the ineffable." — Alan Watts
"You can't second guess ineffability, I always say." — Aziraphale in Good Omens
T.S. Eliot's poem "The Naming of Cats" (1939) playfully suggests that every household cat must bear (besides whatever the family calls him) two additional names: one an exotic appellation shared by no other cat; the other forever unutterable because it is known only to the cat himself ("His ineffable effable / Effanineffable / Deep and inscrutable singular Name").

Things said to be ineffableEdit

Things said to be essentially incommunicableEdit

Things said to be incomprehensibly incommunicableEdit

Things whose expression is regarded as sacred, or otherwise socially prohibitedEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. Concise Oxford Dictionary, 11th edition, 2002.

fr:Ineffabilité pt:Inefabilidade

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