scrutable, inscrutable

First guy: I don’t get my sister. She’s inscrutable.

Second guy: Really? I find her highly scrutable.

Wait, you say. Isn’t that the same old joke you used with ineffable? Yeah, basically.

Here’s another lonely negative. There’s inscrutable, meaning ‘That cannot be searched into or found out by searching; impenetrable or unfathomable to investigation; quite unintelligible, entirely mysterious.’ But you don’t run across scrutable. Inscrutable, which appears as early as 1450, comes from late Latin inscrūtābilis < in- (neg.) + scrūtārī, -āre, ‘to search or examine thoroughly, to explore -able suffix.’

According to the OED scrūtārī comes from scrūta plural, ‘old or broken stuff, trash, frippery, trumpery’; the etymological sense of the vb. is supposed to be ‘to search even to the rags.’

Scrutable, meaning ‘something that can be understood by scrutiny,has been used occasionally in English, but mostly in opposition to inscrutable.

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3 Responses to scrutable, inscrutable

  1. Pingback: Disheveled but never sheveled | Lexie Kahn: Word Detective

  2. Robert says:

    I don’t think this is a true example of its kind (while “disheveled” apparently is), because “scrutable” makes sense and has been occasionally used, even if it was a back formation. It’s a perfectly sensible back formation that could easily have been constructed at the same time as its opposite had anyone felt a need for it.

    If someone were to go all the way and try to make “scrute” (or possibly “scrut”) as a complete verb, that I wouldn’t countenance, because it’s an unnecessary latiniz’n in place of “scrie” or “skyr”. You couldn’t redo “scrutable” now without latinizing, because “scrabble”!

    • Thanks for your comment, Robert. I follow what you’re saying until you get to “scrabble.” Are you talking about the verb from Middle Dutch schrabbelen, frequentative of schrabben ‘to scrape’? In that case, I don’t see the connection. Or are you talking about the game Scrabble, in which “scrute” would not be accepted?

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