What is the difference between the words abstruse and obtuse?
Well, both are adjectives (words that describe nouns). The first word, abstruse, derives from a Latin word meaning “hidden, concealed, secret.” In the English language, it simply means “difficult to understand.” Here are a few examples:
Because I am not a computer programmer, I find most programming languages abstruse.
If you come across a term that is abstruse, you can always use a dictionary to review the word’s meaning.
Being a layman in art, the hidden meaning in most modern paintings is abstruse to me.
Every year, the NY Times compiles and publishes a list of “abstruse words” that they gather based on the readers clicking on a word in order to see their definition. Some examples of such “abstruse” words are: antediluvian, shibboleth and peroration.
The word Obtuse derives from the Latin word meaning “stupid, dull, blunt.” In geometry, “obtuse angles” are obviously not stupid; they are blunt. To go back to math class for a second — an angle less than 180 degrees and greater than 90 degrees is considered “obtuse.” Zoologists and botanists use the word obtuse to discuss things that are not sharp or pointed. For example, larch trees have cones measuring about one linch in length and obtuse at their points (not pointed). When speaking about a person, however, obtuse means not very bright or just plain stupid.
Mixing up the two words — obtuse and abstruse — does happen due to their similarity. Here are some examples of incorrect use:
She found the language in the technical manual too obtuse for her level of understanding.
The abstruse tools were old and difficult to manage.
The lyrics from her latest release were obtuse.
To correct the above:
She found the language in the technical manual too abstruse for her level of understanding.
The obtuse tools were old and difficult to manage.
The lyrics from her latest release were abstruse.
To help you remember, think “dull” for obtuse and “abstract” for abstruse.