• abstruse •
Pronunciation: æb-strus • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Difficult to understand, recondite.
Notes: Abstruse reading matter, speeches, or situations may be arcane, complicated, or by any other measure difficult to understand. The important measure of a situation for the use of this word is simply that it is hard to comprehend. The adverb for this adjective is abstrusely and the noun is abstruseness.
In Play: My former home, the academic world, is probably where today's Good Word and the concept it represents were invented: "Norman French invited me to an abstruse lecture on why people scratch their heads when frustrated." Abstruseness is not limited to the ivory towers of Academia, though: "The reasoning Phil O'Dendron offered for starting a garden supply store after finishing medical school was abstruse to say the least."
Word History: Today's Good Word is a light makeover of Latin abstrusus, the past participle of abstrudere "to hide". The Latin verb comprises ab(s) "(away) from" + trudere "to push". The same root that produced Latin ab(s) also emerged in English as both of and off, and in German as auf "on, to". In Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, it appeared as the prefix öf on öfugr "backward." The Vikings loaned this word to English on one of their many 'visits' to the English coast in the 10th and 11th centuries. In Old English it became awke "wrong", a word that was combined with -ward "in the direction of" (backward, westward, forward) to create awkeward "in the wrong way", today's awkward. (Let's now thank Gianni Tamburini, our favorite Italian reader, who is never abstruse in suggesting such Good Words to us as this one. We also owe Larry Brady a grateful nod for supplying the name of one of the characters in Play above.)