late 14c., "cloudy, misty, hazy" (of the eye, fire-smoke, etc.), from Latin nebulosus "cloudy, misty, foggy, full of vapor," from nebula "mist, vapor" (from PIE root *nebh- "cloud"). The figurative sense of "hazy, vague, formless" is attested by 1831. Astronomical sense, in reference to stars or star clusters surrounded by luminous haze, is from 1670s. Related: Nebulously; nebulousness.