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)

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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 First discovered in 2007, FRBs have challenged and tantalized scientists seeking to uncover their obscure origins and to use them as unique tools for probing the depths of intergalactic space. Ling Xin, Scientific American, 13 Oct. 2021 A night earlier, the Rays lost 6-4 on Vázquez’s two-run homer over the Green Monster in the 13th inning after an obscure rule and an untimely bounce took away a likely go-ahead run in the top of the inning. Ken Powtak, ajc, 12 Oct. 2021 That includes using overseas exchanges outside the reach of U.S. officials and cryptocurrencies designed to obscure transactions and better shield owners’ anonymity. David Uberti, WSJ, 12 Oct. 2021 Then over to Italy for two reds — a natural nero d’avola from Sicily and an obscure red grape from up north in Piedmont. Washington Post, 8 Oct. 2021 There’s a conspiracist on the loose who has captured one of Langdon’s old mentors (played by Eddie Izzard), and the only way to stop him is by solving puzzles that hinge on obscure knowledge. Jackson Mchenry, Vulture, 7 Oct. 2021 The authority that the Administration invoked to do this came in large part from an obscure, controversial policy called Title 42. Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker, 6 Oct. 2021 More than a month after the deadline to run for president, Duterte traded in his bid for mayor of Davao, and took the place of an obscure politician as his party’s presidential candidate. Aurora Almendral, Quartz, 4 Oct. 2021 Some have pondered the names of obscure military figures, historic generals and service members killed in recent conflicts. The New York Times, Arkansas Online, 3 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Barrel-aging has given this deep and rich Pinot Noir an almost coconut flair, but that doesn’t obscure the cherry and plum character. Ted Loos, Robb Report, 9 Oct. 2021 The waxing crescent moon, just a sliver in the sky, won't obscure the meteor shower this year. Sherry Liang, CNN, 8 Oct. 2021 Those broad similarities, though, and a shared exploration of capitalism’s corruption of conscience, shouldn’t obscure what Squid Game does so well, which is to revel in the refusal of subtlety. Roxana Hadadi, Vulture, 7 Oct. 2021 For some foreign policy experts, the chaotic withdrawal should not obscure the larger reality that getting out of Afghanistan was a necessary part of reorienting America to today’s big challenges. Howard Lafranchi, The Christian Science Monitor, 3 Sep. 2021 Still, the harrowing events of the last two weeks, with more sure to come, shouldn’t obscure the long-term blow to American national security. The Editors, National Review, 26 Aug. 2021 But Maillard said overemphasizing interracial relationships as a symbol of progress may obscure deep histories of racial violence and underlying systemic inequities. Christine Fernando, USA TODAY, 12 June 2021 Critics said the diplomatic niceties obscure the ruthlessness of the government. Los Angeles Times, 9 June 2021 For example, court documents say that Jeffrey Register deleted photographs of his time in the Capitol and even claimed to have factory-reset his phone in the days after the breach to obscure his tracks. Mark Harris, Wired, 30 Sep. 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

16 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Obscure.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obscure. Accessed 25 Oct. 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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