Obnoxious Observations

What was it about that obnoxious, obstreperous and obstinate obstetrician? Why did she keep obstructing me with her obsolete and obvious observations? Her obscene and obdurate obsession with the obscure would soon obligate me to obtain an order to obliterate her!

The obvious common factor in many of the words in the preceding paragraph is the word fragment ob; even without knowing immediately what it might mean, many of the words carry a suggestion of contrariness, subtraction, or burden. Can we say any more than that, though?

The prefix ob comes from Latin; of course it comes as a prefix of a Latin root, and so we have to know both the meaning of ob and of the Latin root word to try to work out the etymology of a given word.

In many "ob-words", the prefix has a meaning of "contrary", "against", or even "across from". Thus,

In some "ob-words", the prefix has a meaning of intensification. Thus,

In some other words, the role of ob is not so clear, and we are left only with the underlying root. Thus,

And in some "ob-words", time and usage have worn the word down so that the ob isn't even completely there! Thus,

Words that might be suspected of this root, but which are actually "innocent bystanders" include obelisk, obsidian, office, osculate and oscillate.

In Penelope Lively's book "Consequences", I ran across the word obstruse which is plainly not an obs word, but a variant spelling of abstruse. Oddly enough, in the same book she repeatedly refers to apposition of two things when I expected that she meant opposition.

Among its many contrivances, the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles has an extensive exhibit about Geoffrey Sonnabend, and his theory of memory and forgetting described in the book Obliscence.

It may be appropriate to mention some related Latin phrases, which crop up in English from time to time:

And you may now proceed on your way, with no further obstructions, and let these obscure observations seek their obligatory oblivion.

You can go to the wordplay home page.

Last revised on 29 May 2014.