ob·​scure | \ äb-ˈskyu̇r How to pronounce obscure (audio) , əb- \

Essential Meaning of obscure

1 : not well-known : not known to most people obscure books/titles a little antique shop in an obscure [=out-of-the-way] corner of the city
2 : difficult to understand : likely to be understood by only a few people The movie is full of obscure references that only pop culture enthusiasts will understand.
3 : difficult or impossible to know completely and with certainty The origins of the language are obscure.

Full Definition of obscure

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a : dark, dim the obscure dusk of the shuttered room
b : shrouded in or hidden by darkness standing obscure in the deepest shade
c : not clearly seen or easily distinguished : faint obscure markings
2 : not readily understood or clearly expressed also : mysterious a slough of pretentious and obscure jargon — Philip Howard
3 : relatively unknown: such as
a : remote, secluded an obscure village
b : not prominent or famous an obscure poet
4 : constituting the unstressed vowel \ə\ or having unstressed \ə\ as its value


ob·​scure | \ äb-ˈskyu̇r How to pronounce obscure (audio) , əb- \
obscured; obscuring

Definition of obscure (Entry 2 of 3)

transitive verb

1 : to make dark, dim, or indistinct The soot on the lampshade obscured the light.
2 : to conceal or hide by or as if by covering … snow on glaciers can obscure deep crevasses.— Tom Simon
3 : to reduce (a vowel) to the value \ə\


ob·​scure | \ äb-ˈskyu̇r How to pronounce obscure (audio) , əb- \

Definition of obscure (Entry 3 of 3)

Other Words from obscure


obscurely adverb
obscureness noun


obscuration \ ˌäb-​skyu̇-​ˈrā-​shən How to pronounce obscure (audio) \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Examples of obscure in a Sentence

Adjective 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 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 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 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 The movie is full of obscure references that only pop culture enthusiasts will understand. The origins of the language are obscure. Verb Throughout this book, the ground of fact becomes obscured entirely by a deep layer of speculative quicksand. — Helen Vendler, New Republic, 10 June 2002 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 … [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 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 The true history has been obscured by legends about what happened. They accused the company of trying to obscure the fact that the product poses a health risk. Noun … who shall … through the palpable obscure find out his uncouth way … ? — John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Tim Burton's obscure tale of self-discovery has a magical scene in the back third of the movie centering around Edward (Johnny Depp) and his love interest, Peg (Winona Ryder). Skyler Caruso, PEOPLE.com, 30 Nov. 2021 Their tastes can be fickle, their methods obscure and arcane. Jess Grey, Wired, 27 Nov. 2021 The Deans were snagged by a host of major problems in American health care: very high billing, obscure pricing, high-deductible insurance plans and few options for care in rural areas. Kaiser Health News, oregonlive, 27 Nov. 2021 Her ease, for instance, in screaming beret-to-bootie Versace print suggests someone who trusts that manic accessorizing will bring out, rather than obscure, the volume of her own personality. Daniel D'addario, Variety, 24 Nov. 2021 And depending on your phone, between 8 and 16 of them are part of an obscure group known as rare earth metals, or rare earths. Quartz Staff, Quartz, 22 Nov. 2021 While the algorithm has spread across the globe, its inventor, Stefano Laporta, remains obscure. Quanta Magazine, 22 Nov. 2021 Amid the inflation surge that's rippled through the U.S. economy and touched thousands upon thousands of products, one of the more obscure items on the list is firewood. Bloomberg, Arkansas Online, 21 Nov. 2021 The Times dispatched reporters across three continents drawn into the competition for cobalt, a relatively obscure raw material that along with lithium, nickel and graphite has gained exceptional value in a world trying to set fossil fuels aside. New York Times, 20 Nov. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb That should obscure the partial lunar eclipse from view, as well as the tail end of the Leonid meteor shower that is coinciding with the eclipse. oregonlive, 17 Nov. 2021 The pandemic coincided with a mainstream-media embrace of anti-journalism — coverage seemingly intended to obscure the truth. Jim Geraghty, National Review, 26 Oct. 2021 These prejudices obscure an important truth: Right-wing comedy has become both a viable business strategy and a crucial element of conservative politics. Matt Sienkiewicz, The Conversation, 24 Sep. 2021 Otherwise, the physical distance and lack of transparency by facilities and departments of corrections can obscure the public from knowing what’s happening. Essence, 26 Aug. 2021 Democrats shot back that Republicans were trying to obscure the truth. Star Tribune, 15 June 2021 All propaganda is meant to obscure the truth, but two paintings inadvertently highlight the decline of the Nazi project. Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker, 4 Jan. 2021 All the same, Martineau was a remarkable example of a writer who didn’t hide from or obscure her illness and disability. Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian Magazine, 4 Nov. 2021 There is the rise of the Movimiento Alterado, a musical movement (with connections to Los Angeles) that does little to obscure its links to the drug trade and whose song lyrics often dwell on hyperviolence. Los Angeles Times, 3 Nov. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'obscure.' 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 obscure


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1667, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for obscure


Middle English, "dark, unenlightened, incomprehensible," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French oscur, obscur "dark, dull, enigmatic," borrowed from Latin obscūrus "dim, dark, appearing faintly, imperfectly known, concealed from knowledge, incomprehensible," of uncertain origin

Note: Latin obscūrus has traditionally been linked to a presumed Indo-European verbal base *skeu̯- "cover, conceal," and hence to an assortment of Germanic etyma, most formed with hypothesized root extensions of this base (compare shower entry 1, sky entry 1)—hence, J. Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, p. 951, American Heritage Dictionary, Oxford Latin Dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary, third edition. However, etymological work of the last half-century has thrown doubt on the existence of such an etymon; in particular, the Sanskrit verb skunā́ti, glossed as "covers," has now been judged a late and isolated semantic development of a verb that meant "push, poke" in Vedic. The difficulty with any analysis of obscūrus that posits a meaning "cover" for -scūr- is that it makes little sense semantically compounded with the prefix and preposition ob(s)- "facing, in front of, toward/against" (compare ob oculōs "before one's eyes," obviam "in the way of"). It is not even certain that the word is correctly parsed as ob-scūrus, rather than obs-cūrus, as has been proposed by E. Hamp ("Some Italic and Celtic correspondences II," Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung, 96. Band, 1. Heft [1982/83], pp. 98-99). While acknowledging this problem, M. de Vaan suggests a relationship with the bases of Latin scaevus "left-hand" and obscēnus, obscaenus "ill-omened" (see obscene), though he admits that supporting cognates in other Indo-European languages are lacking (Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages, Brill, 2008).


Middle English obscuren, borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French obscurer, oscurir, borrowed from Latin obscūrāre "to darken, eclipse, dim, conceal from knowledge, make difficult to comprehend," verbal derivative of obscūrus "dim, dark, imperfectly known, concealed from knowledge, incomprehensible" — more at obscure entry 1


derivative of obscure entry 1

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The first known use of obscure was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

3 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Obscure.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obscure. Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for obscure


ob·​scure | \ äb-ˈskyu̇r How to pronounce obscure (audio) , əb- \

Kids Definition of obscure

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : not easy to see : faint an obscure light
2 : hidden from view an obscure village
3 : not easily understood or clearly expressed I struggled with an obscure chapter in the book.
4 : not outstanding or famous It was written by an obscure poet.


obscured; obscuring

Kids Definition of obscure (Entry 2 of 2)

: to make difficult to see or understand Clouds drifted across the sky, obscuring the thin sliver of moon.— Brian Jacques, Redwall

More from Merriam-Webster on obscure

Nglish: Translation of obscure for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of obscure for Arabic Speakers


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