impeccable, peccable, peccadillo

“Impeccable” seems to be another unattached negative with no positive partner. Nowadays “peccable” is used only facetiously, but it once was, if not common, at least not giggle-worthy.

We now hear “impeccable” or “impeccably” in terms of good manners, discerning taste or fine tailoring and grooming. It has come to mean ‘fastidious or of unquestionable propriety,’ but it comes from late Latin impeccābil-is, from the negative prefix im- + peccāre ‘to sin.’ Originally it meant ‘not capable of or liable to sin; exempt from the possibility of sinning or doing wrong.’

“Though she never sinned, yet she was not so impeccable, but she might have sinned.” Hugh Latimer · Sermons and remains 1555

“Its credentials are about as impeccable as you can find in the peccable atmosphere of Hollywood.” New York Times, March 13, 1992

“Peccadillo” meaning, ‘a minor fault or sin, a trivial offense,’ also derives from the Latin peccāre.

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Lexie Kahn: Word Snooper is a blog about words and their origins at WordSnooper.com.
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5 Responses to impeccable, peccable, peccadillo

  1. I’ve also had my attention drawn to words like peccable. I don’t recall seeing or hearing it used literally, but in checking several current dictionaries I found the literal sense listed. For example, Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines peccable (which my spell checker just underlined) as ‘liable to or capable of sin.’ My blog deals with Spanish and English, so I just checked the dictionary of the Real Academia Española and found that pecable exists in Spanish and has the literal sense.

  2. ana says:

    Peccable is used in Goodbye Mr. Chips. Mr. ChIps says about the bird he taught to talk “It’s sense of timing was peccable.” The young boy he says this to does not understand the word and Mr. Chips explains that it means faulty, and that he should have used the word faulty, that it is a better word.

  3. ana says:

    Peccable is used in Goodbye Mr. Chips. Mr. Chips says about the bird he taught to talk “Its sense of timing was peccable.” The young boy he says this to does not understand the word and Mr. Chips explains that it means faulty, and that he should have used the word faulty, that it is a better word.

  4. Thanks, Ana. That’s interesting.

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