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

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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 Mesaros was heard on a recording off a Zoom connection making an obscene reference to opponents and comments about wanting to jump into and fight members of the audience who had been vocal in their opposition to the redevelopment. Mike Nolan, chicagotribune.com, 16 Apr. 2021 Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates. Elaine Blair, The New York Review of Books, 7 Sep. 2021 Seizing upon a group of late-arriving female UCLA spirit squad members seated in the front row, the emcee called them a bunch of lesbians before using more obscene language. Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times, 11 July 2021 No profanity or obscene language will be included, but the show is designed and intended for adults. Sarah Bahari, Dallas News, 23 Aug. 2021 The ruling came after prosecutors said Fellows left rambling and sometimes obscene voicemails for his pretrial services officer and once called her mother, which left both the officer and her mother feeling nervous. Clare Hymes, Cassidy Mcdonald, CBS News, 27 July 2021 In many places, the cost of housing has gone from obscene to unspeakable, pricing out all but the rich or those fortunate enough to have purchased a home long ago. Los Angeles Times, 8 Apr. 2021 And starting in 1565, after years of criticism that deemed the naked figures of the Last Judgment obscene, decorous draperies were painted over their genitals. New York Times, 5 Apr. 2021 An angry passenger makes an obscene gesture toward a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles on Monday. NBC News, 7 Sep. 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

24 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Obscene.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obscene. Accessed 26 Oct. 2021.

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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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