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For the term as used in computer science, see obfuscation (software).

Obfuscation is the willful obscuring of the intended meaning of communication, usually by making the message confusing, ambiguous, or difficult to understand. The obfuscation might be unintentional or intentional (although intent usually is connoted), and is accomplished with circumlocution (talking around the subject), the use of jargon (technical language of a profession), and the use of an argot (ingroup language) of little communicative value to outsiders.[1]

Moreover, in expository writing, unintentional obfuscation usually is a writer's trait in draft documents, when just beginning the composition; such obfuscation can be illuminated with critical thinking and revision, either by the writer or by an editor. Etymologically, the word obfuscation derives from the Latin obfuscatio, from obfuscāre (to darken). Synonyms for the obscuring of meaning include: beclouding and abstrusity.


Obfuscation may be used for many purposes. Doctors have been accused of using jargon to conceal unpleasant facts from a patient; American author Michael Crichton claimed that medical writing is a "highly skilled, calculated attempt to confuse the reader".[2] B. F. Skinner, noted psychologist, commented on medical notation as a form of multiple audience control, which allows the doctor to communicate to the pharmacist things which might be opposed by the patient if they could understand it.[3]


"Eschew obfuscation", also stated as "eschew obfuscation, espouse elucidation", is a humorous fumblerule used by English teachers and professors when lecturing about proper writing techniques. Literally, the phrase means "avoid being unclear" or "avoid being unclear, support being clear", but the use of relatively uncommon words causes confusion in much of the audience (those lacking the vocabulary), making the statement an example of irony, and more precisely a heterological phrase. The phrase has appeared in print at least as early as 1959, when it was used as a section heading in a NASA document.[4]

An earlier similar phrase appears in Mark Twain's Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses,[5] where he lists rule fourteen of good writing as "eschew surplusage".

White box cryptography[edit]

In white-box cryptography, obfuscation refers to the protection of cryptographic keys from extraction when they are under the control of the adversary, e.g., as part of a DRM scheme.[6]

Network security[edit]

In network security, obfuscation refers to methods used to obscure an attack payload from inspection by network protection systems.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Tom McArthur, Ed., (1992) p. 543.
  2. ^ Appendix 25 - Medspeak
  3. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1957) Verbal Behavior p.232
  4. ^ United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA Technical Memorandum (1959), p. 171.
  5. ^ Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses (1895)
  6. ^ Chow S, Eisen P, Johnson H, et al. A white-box DES implementation for DRM applications[M]//Digital Rights Management. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2002: 1-15.

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