Word Confusion: Abstruse versus Obtuse

Posted August 11, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 14 February 2018

At first glance, abstruse and obtuse appear to mean the same thing. It is an abstruse concept. However, abstruse is an obscurity of intelligence. Something so cryptic that it is difficult to understand. Obtuse is more along the lines of stupid, thick, or dopey.

It’s not so much intelligent versus stupid, but difficult to understand because it’s so puzzling to most anyone versus simply being dumber than dirt.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Abstruse Obtuse
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

A page-full of a mathematical formula

“Calculation of Destination of Mach Speed Projectile Using 3 Microphones” by Jon717 has placed in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Well, it’s pretty abstruse to me!

Obtuse angle

“Ángulo obtuso” is HiTe‘s own work and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The obtuse angle.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective Adjective
Difficult to understand

  • Obscure
Annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand

  • Difficult to understand
  • Dull

[Geometry; of an angle] More than 90° and less than 180°

  • Not sharp-pointed, acute, or sharp-edged
  • Blunt

[Of a leaf, petal, etc.] Rounded at the extremity

Pain or sound indistinctly felt or perceived

It was a particularly an abstruse philosophical inquiry.

His classes did their best to avoid the professor’s abstruse lectures.

Why does the help sections of various software use such abstruse language?

He wondered if the doctor was being deliberately obtuse.

Some of the lyrics are a bit obtuse.

The text was difficult to read, for it was so obtuse.

Peter draws acute, right, and obtuse angles with given points.

The calyx is small, smooth and divided into five obtuse sepals (Your Dictionary.com).

It differs from the true crocodile principally in having the head broader and shorter, and the snout more obtuse (Your Dictionary.com).

Adverb: abstrusely
Noun: abstruseness
Adjective: subobtuse
Adverb: obtusely, subobtusely
Noun: obtuseness, obtusity, subobtuseness
History of the Word:
Late 16th century from the Latin abstrusus meaning put away or hidden, which is from abstrudere meaning conceal from ab- (from) + trudere (to push). Late Middle English in the sense of blunt and is the from Latin obtusus, a past participle of obtundere meaning beat against.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits

Greek Philosopher Archimedes in His Bath by KoS has been released into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.