ob·​scene äb-ˈsēn How to pronounce obscene (audio)
: disgusting to the senses : repulsive
: abhorrent to morality or virtue
specifically : designed to incite to lust or depravity
… the dance often becomes flagrantly obscene and definitely provocative … Margaret Mead
: containing or being language regarded as taboo in polite usage
obscene lyrics
obscene literature
: repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral or ethical principles
an obscene misuse of power
: so excessive as to be offensive
obscene wealth
obscene waste
obscenely adverb
Choose the Right Synonym for obscene

coarse, vulgar, gross, obscene, ribald mean offensive to good taste or morals.

coarse implies roughness, rudeness, or crudeness of spirit, behavior, or language.

found the coarse humor of coworkers offensive

vulgar often implies boorishness or ill-breeding.

a loud vulgar belch

gross implies extreme coarseness and insensitiveness.

gross eating habits

obscene applies to anything strongly repulsive to the sense of decency and propriety especially in sexual matters.

obscene language not allowed on the air

ribald applies to what is amusingly or picturesquely vulgar or irreverent or mildly indecent.

entertained the campers with ribald folk songs

Examples of obscene in a Sentence

He was accused of making obscene phone calls. He made an obscene gesture at the driver who cut him off. The company's executives earn obscene salaries. He spends an obscene amount of money on clothes.
Recent Examples on the Web This type of speech is an incendiary, obscene or defamatory statement that aims to incite violent action. Tamia Fowlkes, Journal Sentinel, 10 July 2024 The gaslighting from both sides is truly impressive, but too many of us have turned off our common sense in order to adhere to each party’s obscene and insane purity tests. S.e. Cupp, New York Daily News, 10 July 2024 Given the ongoing library wars, which have seen books about gay penguins and how puberty works challenged as obscene, this seems like a dangerous, criminal campaign for the president to launch. Catherine Rampell, Washington Post, 9 July 2024 Ideas intrude which are shameful, sad, even obscene and immoral. Sally Rooney, The New Yorker, 1 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for obscene 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'obscene.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Middle French & Latin; Middle French, "offensively indecent," borrowed from Latin obscēnus, obscaenus "ill-omened, unpropitious, evoking disgust, loathsome, indecent, lewd," of uncertain origin

Note: M. de Vaan (Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages, Brill, 2008), following a suggestion by Ernout and Meillet, connects obscaenus (if this was the earliest form) with scaevus "left, on the left-hand side, inauspicious," and proposes an original *ob-skai-no- "coming from the left, unpropitious," from Indo-European *skeh2i- "in shadow."

First Known Use

1593, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of obscene was in 1593

Dictionary Entries Near obscene

Cite this Entry

“Obscene.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obscene. Accessed 24 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


ob·​scene äb-ˈsēn How to pronounce obscene (audio)
: very shocking to one's sense of what is moral or decent
obscenely adverb

Legal Definition


ob·​scene äb-ˈsēn How to pronounce obscene (audio)
: extremely or deeply offensive according to contemporary community standards of morality or decency see also Roth v. United States

Note: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that obscene applies to materials that appeal predominantly to a prurient interest in sexual conduct, depict or describe sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Material or expression deemed obscene by the court is not protected by the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


Middle French, from Latin obscenus, obscaenus indecent, lewd

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