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adjective ob·scure \äb-ˈskyu̇r, əb-\

Simple Definition of obscure

  • : not well-known : not known to most people

  • : difficult to understand : likely to be understood by only a few people

  • : difficult or impossible to know completely and with certainty

Full Definition of obscure

  1. 1 a :  dark, dim b :  shrouded in or hidden by darkness c :  not clearly seen or easily distinguished :  faint <obscure markings>

  2. 2 :  not readily understood or clearly expressed; also :  mysterious

  3. 3 :  relatively unknown: as a :  remote, secluded <an obscure village> b :  not prominent or famous <an obscure poet>

  4. 4 :  constituting the unstressed vowel \ə\ or having unstressed \ə\ as its value

ob·scure·ly adverb
ob·scure·ness noun

Examples of obscure

  1. Many people shared an obscure sense of gratification that [Dylan] Thomas had died young, as a poet should. —Adam Kirsch, New Yorker, 5 July 2004

  2. But by 1830 the Boston Mission Board was desperate enough that it targeted an obscure sect of Oriental Christians, the Nestorians in faraway Iran, as a possibility for conversion. —Robert D. Kaplan, The Arabists, 1993

  3. I knew they were special from their jeans and T-shirts, their knowing, ironic looks when obscure works of literature were referred to. —Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, 1991

  4. Now at last Bacon could refer when he chose to his father's high position and his father's service—and no man could say it was done for self-aggrandizement, as a son who is obscure bespeaks the glory of past forebears. —Catherine Drinker Bowen, Francis Bacon, 1963

  5. The movie is full of obscure references that only pop culture enthusiasts will understand.

  6. The origins of the language are obscure.

Origin of obscure

Middle English, from Anglo-French oscur, obscur, from Latin obscurus

First Known Use: 15th century

Synonym Discussion of obscure

obscure, dark, vague, enigmatic, cryptic, ambiguous, equivocal mean not clearly understandable. obscure implies a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge <obscure poems>. dark implies an imperfect or clouded revelation often with ominous or sinister suggestion <muttered dark hints of revenge>. vague implies a lack of clear formulation due to inadequate conception or consideration <a vague sense of obligation>. enigmatic stresses a puzzling, mystifying quality <enigmatic occult writings>. cryptic implies a purposely concealed meaning <cryptic hints of hidden treasure>. ambiguous applies to language capable of more than one interpretation <an ambiguous directive>. equivocal applies to language left open to differing interpretations with the intention of deceiving or evading <moral precepts with equivocal phrasing>.



verb ob·scure \äb-ˈskyu̇r, əb-\

Simple Definition of obscure

  • : to make (something) difficult to understand or know : to make (something) obscure

  • : to hide or cover (something) : to be in front of (something) so that it cannot be seen

Full Definition of obscure


  1. transitive verb
  2. 1 :  to make dark, dim, or indistinct

  3. 2 :  to conceal or hide by or as if by covering

  4. 3 :  to reduce (a vowel) to the value \ə\

ob·scu·ra·tion play \ˌäb-skyu̇-ˈrā-shən\ noun

Examples of obscure

  1. Throughout this book, the ground of fact becomes obscured entirely by a deep layer of speculative quicksand. —Helen Vendler, New Republic, 10 June 2002

  2. But evening comes or even noon and some combination of nervous tensions obscures my memories of what whiskey costs me in the way of physical and intellectual well-being. —John Cheever, New Yorker, 13 Aug. 1990

  3. … [Mr. Schuller's]… “Early Jazz” brought a sometimes Olympian precision to writing about an art that has often languished in the whale's belly of sociology, obscured by pretension and blubbery thinking. —Stanley Crouch, New York Times Book Review, 2 Apr. 1989

  4. It was eight o'clock when we landed; we walked for a short time on the shore enjoying the transitory light, and then retired to the inn and contemplated the lovely scene of waters, woods, and mountains, obscured in darkness, yet still displaying their black outlines. —Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818

  5. The true history has been obscured by legends about what happened.

  6. They accused the company of trying to obscure the fact that the product poses a health risk.

Origin of obscure

(see 1obscure)

First Known Use: 15th century



noun ob·scure \äb-ˈskyu̇r, əb-\

Definition of obscure

Examples of obscure

  1. … who shall … through the palpable obscure find out his uncouth way …? —John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667

Origin of obscure

(see 1obscure)

First Known Use: 1667

Seen and Heard

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February 13, 2016

a trying or distressing experience

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