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[uh b-seen] /əbˈsin/
offensive to morality or decency; indecent; depraved:
obscene language.
causing uncontrolled sexual desire.
abominable; disgusting; repulsive.
Origin of obscene
1585-95; < Latin obscēnus, obscaenus
Related forms
obscenely, adverb
obsceneness, noun
unobscene, adjective
unobscenely, adverb
unobsceneness, noun
Can be confused Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for obscene
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Then the Roman, adding a word or two, closed with an obscene gesture.

    The Brass Bell Eugne Sue
  • He growled an obscene oath as he heaved the great oar forward.

    The Sea-Hawk Raphael Sabatini
  • At every other word, you mean; every obscene or blasphemous one.

  • Between them they dragged into the light the obscene burden.

  • Out of this has come the notion of what is obscene, as the extreme of indecency and impropriety.

    Folkways William Graham Sumner
British Dictionary definitions for obscene


offensive or outrageous to accepted standards of decency or modesty
(law) (of publications) having a tendency to deprave or corrupt
disgusting; repellent: an obscene massacre
Derived Forms
obscenely, adverb
Word Origin
C16: from Latin obscēnus inauspicious, perhaps related to caenum filth
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for obscene

1590s, "offensive to the senses, or to taste and refinement," from Middle French obscène (16c.), from Latin obscenus "offensive," especially to modesty, originally "boding ill, inauspicious," of unknown origin; perhaps from ob "onto" (see ob-) + caenum "filth." Meaning "offensive to modesty or decency" is attested from 1590s. Legally, in U.S., it hinged on "whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to a prurient interest." [Justice William Brennan, "Roth v. United States," June 24, 1957]; refined in 1973 by "Miller v. California":

The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether 'the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Related: Obscenely.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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