This answer to the question Camouflage is to sight as ____ is to sound? includes the sentence:

"I obfuscated our conversation with loud music to avoid recording."

The linked definition says:

The action of making something obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.
when confronted with sharp questions they resort to obfuscation
[count noun] ‘ministers put up mealy-mouthed denials and obfuscations

Origin: Late Middle English: from late Latin obfuscatio(n-), from obfuscare ‘to darken or obscure’ (see obfuscate).

The most up voted answer there (and the one I like) is mask. When I think of obfuscate, I think of manipulating information to confuse or misdirect someone's interpretation of a situation or a communication, so I was surprised to see this use.

Yes, sound is information in some sense, but the information we extract from the sound of speech is not the same as the initial waveforms and vibrations in the air.

Can one obfuscate a conversation by masking it acoustically? Is this a proper use of obfuscate, or is it a bit of a stretch?

  • You can mask a conversation with some kind of other sound.
    – user205876
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 3:13
  • @GlobalCharm I'm not sure of your point; I've addressed masking in the question already.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 3:18

3 Answers 3


That's not how I would use obfuscate.

I think you can make (especially in reference to spoken communication) a distinction between making a conversation difficult to understand and making it difficult to discern.

Obfuscation could involve using slang, overly convoluted language, code words, phonological transformations such as pig Latin, etc. These are all things that would make it hard for an eavesdropper who can clearly discern the sounds made in the conversation to understand what was actually being communication.

Playing loud music (or whispering, or replacing some or all of the spoken words with gestures or written notes) makes the conversation harder to discern, and that isn't obfuscation as I understand the word.

Imagine if there was a written transcript of the conversation. If the transcript is complete and accurate and the conversation is still hard to understand, it may have been deliberately obfuscated by the conversationalists. Playing loud music just makes it harder to get the complete and accurate transcript.

  • 1
    I would argue that making something difficult to discern, by definition, makes it difficult to understand, and so obfuscation includes both things. While I would agree that obfuscation is both less common a term and less precise in this situation, making it unusual, I don't think it's wrong, just less suitable. I can imagine situations where it becomes more suitable thanks to intent - if the context is someone trying to mislead, "obfuscate" might be more suitable, as it might hint at a different purpose than "masking".
    – Latty
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 8:54
  • Of course Marq is correct. Obfuscation (of written or audio) language means obfuscating the platonic words. On the other hand, when you distort literally the audio track or blur the image, you refer to that as blurring, pixelating, masking, "covering with white noise", etc. (Note that there happens to be no common word for "covering with white noise", other than industry technical terms, but so what? A zillion verb-phrases in English, particularly modern technical concepts, have no one-word-version - nothing to see here, a non-issue.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 11:03

by using an acoustic mask (loud music) you obfuscated the conversation and made the conversation unclear (to eavesdroppers).

yes, it's proper use of the word obfuscate and no, it's not a bit of stretch.

you can check out obfuscate in a sentence.

  • 1
    Please add some support for your answer, for example a quote. See an example of obfuscate used 'in real life': ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/6853696/?reload=true
    – Stefan
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 7:06
  • 1
    @chornge interesting answer! There is a distinction between an audio recording of speech being unclear, and the meaning of the speech being unclear. Are you sure both usages of "unclear" are correct here?
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 7:36
  • 2
    @uhoh i meant the the audio recording of the speech being unclear and not the meaning of the speech (unless it was spoken in another language which would add another layer of obfuscation).
    – chornge
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 7:46
  • 1
    @uhoh Many of those examples aren't correct usage. They seem to be treating obfuscate as a synonym for confuse, which it isn't.
    – Marq
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 8:15
  • 1
    i have posted a better link
    – chornge
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 8:20

If "conversation isn't information" then it's no wonder this puzzles you. Anything molested from intended outcome can be said to have been obfuscated. "scientists" obfuscate data to arrive at a desired outcome. Lawyers obfuscate the truth to arrive at a molded conclusion. Politicians obfuscate the facts to manipulate opinions. Obfuscation is arguably the pass time of humanity, for with one lie, misdirection of truth, application of personal will, the altruist intent is obfuscated.

  • Who said conversation isn't information?
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 19:14

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