Will's word

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Obscene. (adjective) "sexually offensive, indecent, lewd"

The sexual meaning dominates the modern use of the word, and was indeed present from the time when it first came into English, during the 1590s.

Shakespeare is actually the first recorded user, but he employs it in a more general sense, as an intensifier of disgust - "repulsive, offensive".

There are just three quotations. Prince Hal calls Falstaff a "whoreson, obscene, greasy tallow-catch" (Henry IV Part 1, II.iv.224). The Bishop of Carlisle talks of Richard's overthrow by Bolingbroke as "so heinous, black, obscene a deed" (Richard II, IV.i.131). And the King in Love's Labour's Lost reads Don Armado's letter describing an "obscene and most preposterous event" (I.i.236) - referring to no more than Costard's meeting with Jacquenetta within the court precinct, from which women have been banned.

In modern English there are signs of a return to this intensifying sense.

When we say "he was paid an obscene amount of money", we mean "disgusting", but without the sexual connotation.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now