Podcast obfuscate

Printable Version
Pronunciation: ahb-fê-skayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To dim or darken, to obscure by light deprivation or other means. 2. To make confusing, to obscure the meaning of, to make less comprehensible.

Notes: The spelling of this word is rather easy since there is a sound corresponding to each letter except the silent E at the end. However, remember that the silent E makes the preceding A long, so even it has a function. The noun is obfuscation and anyone known for his or her obfuscation is an obfuscator. The adjective meaning "tending to obfuscate" is obfuscatory. There is, however, another rather rare and dated adjective with the same meaning, obfuscous. Use it if you like to live on the edge.

In Play: The basic meaning of this Good Word is "to darken", as in, "Closing the blinds to cover his activity had obfuscated the pantry to the point that Les Hyde could not find the chocolates." The metaphorical extension of this word applies to either intentionally or unintentionally confusing matters: "Ivan Oder's explanation of the reasons for the new heat-activated bidets in the restrooms only led to further obfuscation."

Word History: Today's Good Word is the English adaptation of Latin obfuscatus, the past participle of the verb obfuscare "to darken". This verb is built of ob- "over, toward, against" + fuscare "to darken", a verb sharing a root with fuscus "dark." The prefix ob- was subject to the process of "assimilation" whereby a linguistic sound takes on the properties of a contiguous sound. So obfuscare later became offuscare and this spelling, too, slipped into English as offuscate but did not gain enough traction to remain. (Let there be no obfuscation of our gratitude to Michael Oberndorf for suggesting today's absolutely fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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