Word: incorrigible

Pronunciation: in-KOR-i-juh-buhl

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: not able to be corrected, improved, or reformed

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Kurt von Trapp: I’m Kurt. I’m 11. I’m incorrigible.

Fräulein Maria: Congratulations.

Kurt: What’s “incorrigible”?

Maria: I think it means you want to be treated like a boy.

The Sound of Music (1965)

Clearly the above dialogue cannot serve as a trustworthy source of information, as the enchanting character of Fräulein Maria (immortalized by the very talented Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music) was only humoring the mischievous young Kurt von Trapp. Instead, it can be inferred from context that a former governess to the von Trapp children simply believed the boy to be a lost cause (and rather insensitively made that opinion apparent to him).

“Incorrigible” is a word used to describe a person or their tendencies that are supposedly difficult (if not impossible) to correct from their undisciplined state (e.g. an incorrigible flirt). This definition shouldn’t be difficult to memorize, since it stems from the Latin adjective incorrigibilis (in- “not” + corrigere “to correct” + -ibilis “-able”), or literally “not correctable”. I myself find it easy to remember because of my familiarity with the word in Portuguese (my second language): incorrigível, which translates directly as “uncorrectable”.

Personally, I prefer to use “incorrigible” in my writing when referring to a character with a more harmless type of behavior, as in the aforementioned examples of flirting and playful mischief. For a more serious connotation, I would probably go with a synonym like “hardened” or “habitual”; despite having a similar definition, these adjectives tend to fit better with nouns of a darker sort (incorrigible gossip, hardened criminal, habitual liar). Take care with your choice of words when writing; it could make all the difference in setting the tone of your scene!

Note: not to be confused with “encourageable”, which may or may not be a real word, but which is definitely what I understood the first time I watched The Sound of Music!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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