1. Not capable of being maintained or defended: an untenable position.
2. Not capable of being occupied or lived in: untenable quarters.
3. Usage Problem Insupportable; intolerable.
un·ten′a·bili·ty, un·tena·ble·ness n.
Usage Note: The word untenable has recently been applied to various situations with the meaning "not capable of being coped with; insupportable." This meaning (which is not far from the traditional sense of "incapable of being maintained") has become codified in the locution untenable situation. In our 2005 survey, fully 91 percent of the Usage Panel found this expression acceptable in the sentence The job offer left her in an untenable situation: She must either move away from her child or forgo her dream of becoming a film director. But the Panel had little enthusiasm when untenable was extended in its application with this meaning. Only 19 percent accepted the sentence Another untenable tragedy in the region is that children have dropped out of school to become soldiers. The Panel became even less sanguine when untenable was applied to an emotional burden, with just 12 percent accepting When I saw the destruction from the storm, a sense of untenable sadness washed over me.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.