1 a : to remove from recognition or memory
b : to remove from existence
2 : to make undecipherable by wiping out or covering over
Did You Know?
Far from being removed from existence, obliterate is thriving in our language today with various senses that it has acquired over the years. True to its Latin source, oblitteratus—from the prefix ob-, meaning "in the way," and littera, meaning "letter"—it began in the mid-16th century as a word for removing something from memory. Soon after, English speakers began to use it for the specific act of blotting out or obscuring anything written, and eventually its meaning was generalized to removing anything from existence. In the meantime, physicians began using obliterate for the surgical act of filling or closing up a vessel, cavity, or passage with tissue. Its final stamp on the English lexicon was delivered in the mid-19th century: "to cancel a postage or revenue stamp."
The children's chalk drawings remained on the sidewalk until a rainstorm came along and obliterated them.
"That was before Hurricane Maria obliterated the only tropical rain forest in the United States forest system. Left behind was a scene so bare that on a recent visit, it was possible to see the concrete skyline of San Juan about 30 miles west—a previously unimaginable sight." — Luis Ferré-Sadurní, The New York Times, 11 Oct. 2017
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Test Your Vocabulary
What two-word term includes the word letter and can refer to a law or agreement that has lost its force or authority without being formally abolished?VIEW THE ANSWER
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