ob·​scene | \ äb-ˈsēn How to pronounce obscene (audio) , əb- \

Definition of obscene

1 : disgusting to the senses : repulsive
2a : abhorrent to morality or virtue specifically : designed to incite to lust or depravity … the dance often becomes flagrantly obscene and definitely provocative … — Margaret Mead
b : containing or being language regarded as taboo in polite usage obscene lyrics obscene literature
c : repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral or ethical principles an obscene misuse of power
d : so excessive as to be offensive obscene wealth obscene waste

Other Words from obscene

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web Situated in the living room, Museca seemed obscene and a little unholy, like an icon from a church overseas. Cecilia D'anastasio, Wired, 14 Jan. 2022 In the early 1960s, Lenny Bruce was arrested several times, ostensibly for obscene language. Harry Bruinius, The Christian Science Monitor, 29 Nov. 2021 Justin Akin, 25, of Warner Robins was arrested and charged with four counts of furnishing obscene materials to a minor, a misdemeanor, WMAZ reported. Rich Barak, ajc, 8 Dec. 2021 But pornography itself is not what Jude finds obscene. Armond White, National Review, 8 Dec. 2021 But last Saturday’s verbal abuse against the Frenchman, who has spent the last seven years in Liga MX, began before the match did — attacks Gignac appeared to acknowledge with an obscene hand gesture. Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times, 7 Dec. 2021 Books must meet these guidelines: soft covers, no hardbacks; no violent or obscene topics. Laura Groch, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 Dec. 2021 And in July Khan was captured on surveillance cameras making an obscene gesture at protesters in the lobby of council chambers while leaving the building. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 3 Dec. 2021 The result is an obscene detachment between Tesla’s stock price and its fundamentals, which Fortune’s Shawn Tully dissects. Beth Kowitt, Fortune, 30 Nov. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'obscene.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of obscene

1593, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for obscene

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."

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Time Traveler for obscene

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The first known use of obscene was in 1593

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Last Updated

21 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Obscene.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obscene. Accessed 27 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for obscene



English Language Learners Definition of obscene

: relating to sex in an indecent or offensive way
: very offensive in usually a shocking way
: so large an amount or size as to be very shocking or unfair


ob·​scene | \ äb-ˈsēn How to pronounce obscene (audio) , əb- \

Kids Definition of obscene

: very shocking to a person's sense of what is moral or decent


ob·​scene | \ äb-ˈsēn How to pronounce obscene (audio) \

Legal Definition of obscene

: 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.

History and Etymology for obscene

Middle French, from Latin obscenus obscaenus indecent, lewd

More from Merriam-Webster on obscene

Nglish: Translation of obscene for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of obscene for Arabic Speakers


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