Generally, does the word "abstruse" give positive or negative (or neutral) connotations?

For example, "daedal" and "profound" would generally be considered a word with positive connotations, whereas "confusing" would have negative connotations, and "abstract" would be neutral.

I am aware that the entire sentence needs to be taken into context before we can determine the connotation, but with just the word, what connotation does "abstruse" give generally?

1 Answer 1


This word may be uncommon enough that its connotations end up being ultimately about individual opinion. None of the dictionaries I have just checked give any mention or relevant samples to indicate any inherent connotation in the word.

That said, to me, ‘abstruse’ has a definite negative connotation, like ‘obscure’ and ‘arcane’.

Most words that mean ‘difficult to understand’ tend to have a negative connotation, simply because making oneself clear and easy to understand is generally considered a virtue (unless you’re a philosopher, in which case I imagine the connotations are probably switched), while failing to do so is considered something undesirable.

The only words I can think of in this semantic category that generally have a positive connotation are recondite and (especially) esoteric. Both these words refer to something that is difficult to understand not because it is unclear and muddy, but because it is intricate, specialised, and rarely seen—and exactly because of those qualities, it is seen as being somewhat precious.

  • Hmm, isn't "intricate" neutral? From your last paragraphy, are you suggesting "intricate" has a positive connotation too?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 16:21
  • I’d consider ‘intricate’ neutral in some contexts, and positive in others. If I describe the plot of a book as intricate, that will usually be a good thing. Only rarely would I use it if I wanted a negatively loaded word. Commented Dec 23, 2013 at 16:27
  • Why doesn't people upvote this question?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Dec 27, 2013 at 5:03
  • i disagree that 'obscure' has a negative connotation. it can, but it doesn't by default. by that i mean you can use it in a way that doesn't convey negativity at all. some words aren't so flexible. something is either known or obscure. not being known isn't "bad" in and of itself.
    – user428517
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 18:34
  • "...unless you're a philosopher." Excellent.
    – John Lexus
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 19:02

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