I hope there is a real reason for this and that my question won't be seen as 'primarily opinion based'.

What's the deal with the sudden popularity of the word 'obfuscate' and it's variants?

Ngram shows a pretty big leap in usage of obfuscate and it's variants since the 1960s but personally I've noticed in articles that I've read online recently that more and more articles are using this term.

Is there a reason behind this?

The only reason I can guess is something to do with code and programming (especially ios, android, etc.) but that's pretty much all I got.

  • 1
    What kind of articles do you read?
    – Shahar
    Aug 18 '14 at 1:51
  • 1
    Can you first give any evidence of the increased frequency of that word lately? I don't think it is any more frequent than it ever was. The quip "Eschew Obfuscation" started becoming popular in the late 60's.
    – Mitch
    Aug 18 '14 at 3:11
  • 2
    There's no apostrophe in its in this context.
    – Kris
    Aug 18 '14 at 5:01
  • nGrams are to be taken with a generous pinch of salt (corroborating evidence/ other supporting information). That said, obfuscate is more visible in areas other than programming. See: google.com/…
    – Kris
    Aug 18 '14 at 5:05

As you thought, the probable reason for the increase in the use use of the word is computers - security, to be precise. In software development, the term "obfuscation" basically means making a mess of your code but making sure it still compiles, which developers do to keep people from stealing their code. It's called security through obscurity, and you'll see websites like Google employing it (on the client side too - look through Google's JavaScript/HTML files in your console - the code is a programmer's nightmare). Similarly, the term is used in network security to refer to methods that get called to obscure an attack and of course prevent anything from being stolen or damaged. In addition, it's used in cryptography, basically the same way in order to protect cryptographic keys. Point is - it's a term used for security.

There are other uses of the word, but this seems to be the only thing that could have stimulated the supposed increase in usage of the word. The next big thing in computers is security, and we know this because security experts are now offered millions of dollars (and I'm not exaggerating) in salaries. With the present obsession with security, I'd imagine you'll hear this word a lot more often.


In addition to rising security concerns and the poor choice of security by obfuscation, mentioned by @Shahar, there are coding competitions involving obfuscating otherwise easy-to-read programs - as a lark.

More info about coding contests.

But I wouldn't say that the popularity of obfuscation is sudden. Perhaps the word is relatively new to you, so you notice its use more? Kind of like a soon-to-be-mom noticing that there are "suddenly" lots of pregnant women everywhere.

  • +1 for the last paragraph (because it's most likely true), but just a question (I am a software engineer but have never learned anything regarding security/networks [weird school]) - why is it poor choice of security?
    – Shahar
    Aug 18 '14 at 3:47
  • @Shahar: I shouldn't have sounded so expert; I am not. My understanding is that trying to hide something is not really a secure way of preventing access to it. Obfuscation is not encryption.
    – Drew
    Aug 18 '14 at 5:22
  • @Shahar: And see the Wikipedia article linked to in your own answer. ;-)
    – Drew
    Aug 18 '14 at 5:30

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