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See also: obscène



From Middle French obscene (modern French obscène (indecent, obscene)), and from its etymon Latin obscēnus, obscaenus (inauspicious; ominous; disgusting, filthy; offensive, repulsive; indecent, lewd, obscene). The further etymology is uncertain, but may be from ob- (prefix meaning ‘towards’) + caenum (dirt, filth; mire, mud) (possibly ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ḱweyn- (to make dirty, soil; filth; mud)) or scaevus (left, on the left side; clumsy; (figurative) unlucky) (from Proto-Indo-European *skeh₂iwo-).[1]



obscene (comparative obscener or more obscene, superlative obscenest or most obscene) (see usage notes)

  1. Offensive to standards of decency or morality.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:obscene
    Antonyms: decent, moral, nonobscene
    • c. 1595–1596 (date written), W. Shakespere [i.e., William Shakespeare], A Pleasant Conceited Comedie Called, Loues Labors Lost. [] (First Quarto), London: [] W[illiam] W[hite] for Cut[h]bert Burby, published 1598, →OCLC; republished as Shakspere’s Loves Labours Lost (Shakspere-Quarto Facsimiles; no. 5), London: W[illiam] Griggs, [], [1880], →OCLC, [Act I, scene i]:
      [...] I did incounter that obſeene and moſt prepoſterous euent that draweth frõ my ſnowhite pen the ebon coloured Incke, which here thou vieweſt, beholdeſt, ſuruayeſt, or ſeeſt. [...] There did I ſee that low ſpirited Swaine, [...] hight Coſtard, (Clow[ne]. O mee) ſorted and conſorted contrary to thy eſtabliſhed proclaymed Edict and continent Cannon; Which with, o with, but with this I paſſion to ſay wherewith: / Clo[wne]. With a Wench.
    • 1610, S[ain]t Augustine, “Of the Honor that Christians Giue to the Martires”, in J[ohn] H[ealey], transl., St. Augustine, of the Citie of God: [], [London]: [] George Eld, →OCLC, page 336:
      Neither do wee pleaſe them with their owne crimes, or obſcæne ſpectacles: whereas they celebrate both the guilt that there gods incurred who were men, and the fayned pleaſures of ſuch of them as were flat deuills.
    • 1654, Jo[hn] Webster, “Of Scholastick Philosophy”, in Academiarum Examen, or The Examination of Academies. [], London: [] Giles Calvert, [], →OCLC, paragraph 3, page 54:
      Shall I recount his intemperance, voluptuouſneſs, and obſcæne manner of living? or his impious, doubtful or wicked end? no, let them be buried with his aſhes.
    • 1990, Inder S. Rana, Law of Obscenity in India, USA & UK, New Delhi: Mittal Publications, →ISBN, page 109:
      What is obscene today may not be so tomorrow or what is obscene at one place may not be obscene at another place.
    • 2001, George Ritzer, Explorations in the Sociology of Consumption: Fast Food, Credit Cards and Casinos, London, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications, →ISBN, pages 8–9:
      The chapter closes with some thoughts on the obscene consumer from both a postmodern, and especially a modern, perspective. From the latter point of view, the obscene consumer is one who either consumes too little or who consumes what are, from the perspective of consumer society, the 'wrong' things (heroin, guns). (I propose the concept of the 'dangerous consumer' here since it is clear that such consumers can pose a danger to contemporary society.) From a postmodern perspective, the obscene consumer is one who consumes in a highly visible manner.
    • 2009, Lori Lipoma, “Kirkegaard, Contradiction, and South Park: The Jester’s View of Religion”, in Leslie Stratyner, James R. Keller, editors, The Deep End of South Park: Critical Essays on Television’s Shocking Cartoon Series, Jefferson, N.C., London: McFarland & Company, →ISBN, page 18:
      South Park, at the end of the twentieth century, earned international acclaim as the most obscene, scatological, sacrilegious, and popular comedy in the American mainstream and became a leading profit center for Comedy Central.
    • 2009, Ingrid Loschek, “When is Creativity?”, in Lucinda Rennison, transl., When Clothes become Fashion: Design and Innovation Systems, Oxford, Oxfordshire, New York, N.Y.: Berg, →ISBN, part II (Invention and Innovation), page 39:
      However, the new is not radical or provocative or obscene a priori. Provocation develops when the 'communicative contract' between the clothing and the consumer is broken, resulting in shocked rejection or euphoric acceptance.
  2. Lewd or lustful.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:obscene
    Antonyms: chaste, nonobscene, pure
    • 1629, Fra[ncis] Lenton, “Section XIV. The Young Gallant’s Whirlgig.”, in James Orchard Halliwell, editor, The Marriage of Wit and Wisdom, an Ancient Interlude. [], London: [] Shakespeare Society, published 1846, →OCLC, page 129:
      Playes are the nurseries of vice, the bawd, / That thorow the senses steales our hearts abroad, / Tainting our eares with obscæne bawdery, / Lascivious words, and wanton ribaulry.
    • 1996, Alan Soble, “Masturbation”, in Sexual Investigations, New York, N.Y.: New York University Press, →ISBN, page 104:
      All masturbation is obscene, for [Roger] Scruton, also because it "involves a concentration on the body and its curious pleasures" [...].
    • 2004 August 25, Victor T. Cheney, “Other Sex-related Problems”, in The Sex Offenses and their Treatments: The Problem—The Solution—Commentary, Bloomington, Ind.: AuthorHouse, →ISBN, page 223:
      Obscene phone calling is usually considered a nuisance to the women receiving such calls from a man who makes obscene suggestions or describes his masturbation over the telephone.
    • 2011, Chanon R. Ross, “Obscenity”, in Joel B. Green, editor, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, Baker Publishing Group, →ISBN, page 560, column 2:
      He [Justin Martyr] asks how pagan gods who exhibit the same destructive passions and obscene desires as wicked humans can be worthy of worship.
    • 2011, Alberto Salinas, Jr., “Actual Demon Possession Cases”, in The Border Healer: My Life as a Curandero, Bloomington, Ind.: AuthorHouse, →ISBN, part 4 (Demon Possession and Exorcism), page 123:
      I was contacted about a two-year-old Latino male and informed that his behavior was obscene. I was advised about this by two female relatives to the child. They had a hard time explaining to me that the boy wanted to have relations with his grandmother. [...] This boy was demon spirit possessed!
    • 2013 January 10, Naser Hegazy, “Mozart’s Genius”, in Secrets of Love, Marriage, Sex, Genius, Success, and Happiness: Analytic View According to the Recent Scientific Studies, Bloomington, Ind.: AuthorHouse, →ISBN, part 4 (Secrets of Genius), page 106:
      One of his [Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's] contradictions, which is puzzling, comes from his objectivity, stubbornness, and great interest in abusive words and obscene jokes, despite his religiousness and his chastity, which he refused to abandon during his life.
  3. Disgusting or repulsive.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:obscene
    Antonym: nonobscene
    • 1843 December 19, Charles Dickens, “Stave Four. The Last of the Spirits.”, in A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, London: Chapman & Hall, [], →OCLC, page 135:
      Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror. As they sat grouped about their spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old man's lamp, he viewed them with a detestation and disgust, which could hardly have been greater, though they had been obscene demons, marketing the corpse itself.
    • 2002 October, Susanne Heinz, Deborah Miller, “Hogan’s Heroes”, in Grandmother’s Radio: Echoes from the Holocaust, Calgary, Alta.: Bayeux Arts, →ISBN, page 66:
      The reminder of who we were / made the canned laughter obscene. / Disgusted, mother returned to the kitchen, / her thoughts private.
    • 2014 February 12, Scott Ludwig, “October”, in My Life: Everything but BUY THE BOOK!: Part 2 of 2, Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse, →ISBN:
      Her mom made her break up with me when she found a note I wrote to Linda; she found it obscene. I found HER obscene.
    • 2017, Kyle W. Letteney, “Self-inflicted Wound: On the Paradoxical Dimensions of American Violence”, in Tatiana Savoia Landini, François Dépelteau, editors, Norbert Elias and Violence, New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, Springer Nature, →DOI, →ISBN, part II (Strengths and Limits), page 149:
      Mass shootings occur for a variety of reasons, including social frustration, alienation, detachment, and mental instability. [...] Of course it is very difficult to pinpoint why someone would resort to such obscene violence.
  4. (by extension) Beyond all reason; excessive.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:excessive
    Antonyms: see Thesaurus:moderate
    • 1961 November 10, Joseph Heller, “The Eternal City”, in Catch-22 [], New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, →OCLC, page 425:
      Yossarian went along in Milo Minderbinder's speeding M & M staff car to police headquarters to meet a swarthy, untidy police commissioner with a narrow black mustache and unbuttoned tunic who was fiddling with a stout woman with warts and two chins when they entered his office and who greeted Milo with warm surprise and bowed and scraped in obscene servility as though Milo were some elegant marquis.
    • 1999, Joan Wolf, chapter 4, in The Pretenders, [San Francisco, Calif.]: Untreed Reads, published 2020, →ISBN:
      "You ate an obscene amount of those lobster patties last night, Deb." / "And I plan to eat an obscene amount of them tonight as well," I replied.
    • 2015 February, Vivi Barnes, chapter 18, in Stacy Abrams, Tara Quigley, editors, Paper or Plastic, Fort Collins, Colo.: Entangled Teen, Entangled Publishing, →ISBN:
      She would probably jump at the chance to show everyone how to save an obscene amount of money with an obscene amount of coupons.
    • 2016, Marcela Del Sol, Kaleidoscope: My Life’s Multiple Reflections, Calwell, Canberra, A.C.T.: Inspiring Publishers, →ISBN, page 102:
      I was never jealous or envious when it came to things. The fact that Mama wanted to shower my friend with presents never affected me. Things meant nothing to me because I had an obscene quantity of everything.
  5. (chiefly British, criminal law) Liable to corrupt or deprave.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:obscene
    Antonyms: decent, nonobscene
    • 1959 August 29, Obscene Publications Act 1959 (7 & 8 Eliz. II, chapter 66)‎[1], London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, →OCLC, archived from the original on 4 August 2020, section 1(1):
      For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.
    • 2006, Philip A. Dynia, “Obscenity”, in Paul Finkelman, editor, Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties, volumes 2 (G–Q), New York, N.Y., Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge, →ISBN, page 1116, column 1:
      The tract was far more political and religious than sexual, but Cockburn [Sir Alexander Cockburn, 12th Baronet] found it obscene because it would suggest to young persons (of either sex) "impure and libidinous" thoughts.
    • 2009, Andrea Millwood Hargrave, Sonia M. Livingstone, “Annex II: The Legal Framework of English Law Regulating Media Content”, in Harm and Offence in Media Content: A Review of the Evidence, 2nd edition, Fishponds, Bristol, Chicago, Ill.: Intellect Books, →ISBN, pages 282–283:
      The principle that obscene material must have more serious effects than arousing feelings of revulsion leads to the doctrine that material that in fact shocks and disgusts may not be obscene, since its effect is to discourage readers from indulgence in the immorality so unappetizingly portrayed.
    • 2016, Hugh Jones, Christopher Benson, “Defamation and Other Risks”, in Publishing Law, 5th edition, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN, part IV (Publish and Be Damned), page 228:
      An article is not obscene simply because it is repulsive or filthy. The prosecution must prove that its tendency is strong enough actually to deprave and corrupt a significant proportion of its likely audience; in other words, to pervert or corrupt their morals sufficiently for it to constitute a public menace. [...] Anything tending to deprave or corrupt may be obscene, including material encouraging the taking of dangerous drugs or glorifying violence, particularly if it is expressly targeted at children or adolescents.

Usage notes[edit]

  • The comparative form obscener and superlative form obscenest, though formed by valid rules for English, are less common than more obscene and most obscene.
  • In criminal law, many jurisdictions distinguish between the terms obscene, indecent, and profane when regulating broadcast content, with obscene typically being the most severe of the three categories.

Alternative forms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


obscene (third-person singular simple present obscenes, present participle obscening, simple past and past participle obscened)

  1. (transitive, intransitive, rare) To act or speak in an obscene manner; to offend.
    • 1960 October, Sol Yurick, “The Annealing”, in The Noble Savage, number 2, New York, N.Y.: Meridian Books, Inc., →LCCN, page 111:
      They passed the little stenchy cubicles shared by two families to a floor, and the graffiti gratuitously graven onto the walls, obscening the world and telling it, them, those, the fuzz, and everyone to go and . . .
    • 1970, Sean O’Faolain, “Hymeneal”, in The Talking Trees and Other Stories, Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown and Company, →LCCN, page 49:
      That always came as a final apotheosis, showing Phil deep in hell, growling through Greek fire and blue smoke – that is to say, locked upstairs in the bathroom, obscening at her as he never in his life obscened at anybody in public, strangling her with his two fists, shoving her head down into the W.C. and pulling the chain on her for good and all.
    • 2004, Edward Lee, The Bighead, Hiram, GA: Overlook Connection Press, →ISBN, page 143:
      Fucked up, is what they are,” the priest obscened. “Pardon my language, but this is par for the course of the Catholic Church. What kind of bullshit is this?”


  1. ^ obscene, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2004; obscene, adj.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]




  1. vocative masculine singular of obscēnus


  • obscene”, in Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short (1879) A Latin Dictionary, Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • obscene”, in Charlton T. Lewis (1891) An Elementary Latin Dictionary, New York: Harper & Brothers
  • obscene in Gaffiot, Félix (1934) Dictionnaire illustré latin-français, Hachette.



obscene f pl

  1. feminine plural of obscen