c. 1400, "dark," figuratively "morally unenlightened; gloomy," from Old French obscur, oscur "dark, clouded, gloomy; dim, not clear" (12c.) and directly from Latin obscurus "dark, dusky, shady," figuratively "unknown; unintelligible; hard to discern; from insignificant ancestors," from ob "over" (see ob-) + -scurus "covered," from PIE root *(s)keu- "to cover, conceal." Related: Obscurely.
The figurative sense of "not readily understood, not manifest to the mind or understanding" is from early 15c.; of persons, "not illustrious or noted, unknown to fame," 1540s. The more literal sense of "indistinct, without clearness of form or outline, hardly perceptible, not capable of being clearly seen through lack of light" is attested in English from 1590s.
In regard to the meaning of something said or written, obscure is general, being founded upon the figure of light which is insufficient to enable one to see with any clearness; this figure is still felt in all the uses of the word. [Century Dictionary, 1895]
early 15c., obscuren, "to cover (something), cloud over," from obscure (adj.) or else from Old French obscurer, from Latin obscurare "to make dark, darken, obscure," from obscurus. Meaning "to conceal from knowledge or observation, disguise" is from 1520s; that of "to overshadow or outshine" is from 1540s. Related: Obscured; obscuring.
"that obscures or darkens; that labors to prevent enlightenment," 1804, from French obscurant, from Latin obscurantem (nominative obscurans), present participle of obscurare "to make dark, darken, obscure," from obscurus (see obscure (adj.)).
1540s, "act of darkening; state of being made dark," from Latin obscurationem (nominative obscuratio) "a darkening, obscuring," noun of action from past-participle stem of obscurare "to make dark, darken, obscure," from obscurus (see obscure (adj.) ).
late 15c., obscurite, "absence of light, lack of brightness or luster;" 1610s with the meaning "condition of being unknown or inconspicuous;" from obscure (adj.) + -ity; or else from Old French obscurete, a variant of oscureté "darkness, gloom; vagueness, confusion; insignificance" (14c.) and directly from Latin obscuritatem (nominative obscuritas) "darkness, indistinctness, uncertainty," from obscurus. Meaning "quality or condition of not being clearly comprehended" is from late 15c. (Caxton).
When I was asked to talk about the Obscurity of the Modern Poet I was delighted, for I have suffered from this obscurity all my life. But then I realized that I was being asked to talk not about the fact that people don't read poetry, but about the fact that most of them wouldn't understand it if they did .... [Randall Jarrell, "The Obscurity of Poetry," 1953]
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to cover, conceal."
It forms all or part of: chiaroscuro; cunnilingus; custody; cutaneous; cuticle; -cyte; cyto-; hide (v.1) "to conceal;" hide (n.1) "skin of a large animal;" hoard; hose; huddle; hut; kishke; lederhosen; meerschaum; obscure; scum; skewbald; skim; sky.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit kostha "enclosing wall," skunati "covers;" Greek kytos "a hollow, vessel," keutho "to cover, to hide," skynia "eyebrows;" Latin cutis "skin," ob-scurus "dark;" Lithuanian kiautas "husk," kūtis "stall;" Armenian ciw "roof;" Russian kishka "gut," literally "sheath;" Old English hyd "a hide, a skin," hydan "to hide, conceal; Old Norse sky "cloud;" Old English sceo "cloud;" Middle High German hode "scrotum;" Old High German scura, German Scheuer "barn;" Welsh cuddio "to hide."
1798, "to make obscure, obscure the meaning of;" 1814, "perplex purposely," from French mystifier (1772), a verb formed irregularly from mystique "mysterious" (see mystic (adj.)) + -fier "to make" (see -fy). Related: Mystified; mystifying.