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(pronounced ub-stroos or ab-stroos; “oo” pronounced as in “loot” and not as in “book”)  adjective


difficult to understand (because of complexity, abstractness, intellectual effort required, esoteric nature, etc.); incomprehensible; recondite; designed or understood by only a particular group.

Main Example

  • Imagine for a moment scientists from all across the Middle East, including enemy nations such as Iran and Israel, working together in a super high-tech laboratory. Sounds like an impossible dream, but that’s exactly what is happening at a recently inaugurated cutting-edge lab in Jordan. So, what exactly is the purpose of this facility, named SESAME (for "Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East")? The project description is a bit too abstruse for this author, but suffice it to say that SESAME is essentially a particle accelerator that acts as a powerful microscope and which, according to the BBC, "can study everything from cancer cells to ancient artifacts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls."

Workplace Examples

  • I agree that Deborah is the smartest software engineer in the department, but she is extremely difficult to understand. Each sentence she utters is packed with long, polysyllabic, obscure terms. Do you really want somebody who is incomprehensible, and abstruse, to be a team lead?
  • Hugo, to divide this training class into four groups, you don’t have to use some abstruse psychological criteria! Just do something simple, such as having the participants sequentially say out loud 1-2-3-4 and then gathering all the 1’s in this corner, the 2’s in that corner, and so on.

Other Examples

  • a friend commenting: “That book sure has a catchy title, but the moment I opened it and saw it was full of abstruse math symbols and equations, I quickly put it back on the shelf.”
  • a colleague saying: “One member of our public speaking club speaks in very abstract terms, like a philosopher, and I often find myself asking her to give specific examples so I can penetrate all that abstruseness.”
  • an abstruse presentation or lecture; the abstruse world of genetic research; an abstruse concept; a research report going unread because it is filled with abstruse passages; an educator who can explain even the most abstruse and intellectually demanding scientific theories in the simplest of terms; the abstruse products and services of America’s hi-tech companies
  • pops concerts by symphony orchestras helping dispel the notion that all classical music is synonymous with abstruseness; Enron’s phony financials eluding Wall Street analysts for years because of the extreme complexity and abstruseness of the entities created by the company to hide its massive debt; a trial lawyer failing to sway the jury because of the abstruseness of his arguments
  • many of the rules and procedures in the U.S. Senate being too abstruse for most Americans, including this author; students competing in spelling bees at the middle school level having to contend with some of the most abstruse words in the dictionary

© 2017 V.J. Singal
No part of this may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author.

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