ob·​scene | \äb-ˈsēn, 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

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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

Tate, a rising junior, didn’t take over as Arizona’s starting quarterback until the fifth game of the season and proceeded to put up obscene offensive numbers. Dan Gartland, SI.com, "Khalil Tate Doesn’t Seem to Want Arizona to Hire Ken Niumatalolo," 12 Jan. 2018 Heisey, who told The Post he’s never called Woodard, was charged with a misdemeanor for using obscene language with the intent to coerce, intimidate or harass another person. Ian Shapira, Washington Post, "He once defended the poor in court. Now he defends white supremacists.," 2 July 2018 This new single doesn’t go far from Bad Bunny’s style, but its lyrics are less obscene than the usual. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "Viva Friday Playlist: The Best New Latin Music From Bad Bunny, Silvestre Dangond & More," 29 June 2018 In 1957, the US Supreme Court, in Roth v. United States, ruled 6-3 that obscene materials were not protected by the First Amendment. BostonGlobe.com, "This day in history," 23 June 2018 As a matter of policy, authorities seize letters that contain obscene material, privileged communications, or threats to public safety. Fox News, "Parkland suspect Nikolas Cruz showered with fan mail, donations: report," 29 Mar. 2018 The dialogue here is frank and funny and refreshing—unfortunately too obscene to be quoted in an American newspaper. David Mason, WSJ, "‘Stories’ and ‘True Stories’ Review: Life, Pinned to the Page," 13 July 2018 But none of this matters unless firms correct the obscene gender imbalances in their upper ranks. BostonGlobe.com, "Women in law paint picture of harassment," 12 July 2018 And also today, the president singled out the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for what is her country's obscene dependence on Russian energy, and for the billions and billions of dollars flowing from Germany right into Vladimir Putin's pockets. Fox News, "Steve Bannon on NATO: Trump is saying 'no more games'," 12 July 2018

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

Middle French, from Latin obscenus, obscaenus

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Statistics for obscene

Last Updated

12 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for obscene

The first known use of obscene was in 1593

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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, əb-\

Kids Definition of obscene

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


ob·​scene | \äb-ˈsēn \

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

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Comments on obscene

What made you want to look up obscene? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


obstinately defiant of authority

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