Obfuscate [ob-fuh-skeyt] is one of those words that sounds obscure and remote. However, it is a great word that is used regularly in any number of settings. I often hear it on news shows, in interviews and in the midst of dialogue and it appears in articles all the time. Obfuscate is from the Latin and originally meant “to darken.” That’s a very useful way to envision the meaning of the word, as I am convinced that the word is best used when talking about intentionally causing confusion. It’s like turning the lights out and making it hard to find clarity.
It happens all the time with “small print” documents, in which I am convinced that the manufacturer or creator of a document is intentionally trying to confuse the reader and make it difficult to sort out the information you need to be secure. The same thing is done in speeches and presentations when the presenter is attempting to swing you to (his) side of the argument. He can obfuscate the issue by leading you all “around Robin Hood’s barn” in his logic and argumentation. You become confused and disoriented from the point of the presentation and find yourself just giving in to his point.
In political seasons such as the one we are experiencing, the easiest way to respond to a difficult or testy question is to insert all kinds of irrelevant information that clouds the issue (darkens it) and fails to provide the information the questioner is seeking. I sometimes wonder if the candidate even forgets the question in his attempt to obfuscate the facts. If someone listening is really good at cutting through the blathering and remain focused on the question, it can be one of those stumbling moments that hits the media and becomes a pertinent sound byte.
One of the more humorous terms used in classrooms by teachers is “eschew obfuscation.” It is a clever way of getting the attention of students and teaching them to avoid creating confusion in their writing. I saw the term on a bumper sticker at one point and drove numerous miles trying to de-cypher it before pulling over and using my cell phone dictionary to unwind it. The advice is worth embracing.
I have also seen the word obfuscate confused with confiscate in a newspaper article in which the writer talked about the police “obfuscating the evidence.“ It was clear that the writer was confused and trying hard to sound erudite. It would have been better for “her” to have stuck to common language to make her point. Her misuse of the word only obfuscated the article.
Graphic Credit: myLot