I want to say in a formal and more precise way (academic publication) that since something has been obfuscated, it is really hard to understand.

By "hard to understand" I mean that understanding its internal structure would be complicated by an external person.

However, this formulation is too broad, too spontaneous for what I need to write. What terms could I use to express this in a formal and concise manner?

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    Difficult to comprehend / decipher. Looking up synonyms, and checking example sentences in dictionaries / articles, is reasonable research; some signs of research are expected on ELU. Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 16:39
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    Indeed. The "formality" tag says " The question must identify a particular concern about the formality of the word or phrase at issue" which this question doesn't. Why is "hard to understand" not good enough? Is it actually the word really which is the problem?
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 16:50
  • @AndrewLeach I thought it was quite obvious why such a sentence can't appear in an academic publication, it's too broad and spontaneous. Yes really is part of the problem.
    – Antoine C.
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 16:54
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    abstruse adjective - difficult to understand; obscure. Also, given it's a "50-cent word", this is one of those words that's "self-defining". (But I've forgotten what the word for that is! :) Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 17:01
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    @AntoineC. No, it's not obvious, which is why the tag says what it does. And if really is the problem, then that's what you should be asking about. What about just leaving that word out? What's actually wrong with "hard to understand", if something is hard to understand?
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 17:15

4 Answers 4


I would use the word intricate, meaning:

with many complicated details that make something difficult to understand


having a lot of small parts or pieces arranged in a complicated way, and therefore sometimes difficult to understand in detail

both of which may fit your description well.

  • Note that intricate only implies a high degree of essential detail or subtlety, perhaps to the degree of suggesting something is over-specialised or fragile - for example, a painting or a carving may be "intricate". It does not carry the implications of words like "obfuscated", which suggests that something is far more complex than it needs to be.
    – Steve
    Commented May 1, 2020 at 9:33

If it is hard to understand because it requires intelligence that is above average, then the word you are looking for is abstruse

Relativity is an abstruse theory

Here is the definition by Merriam-Webster

However, if it is hard because of lack of prerequisite knowledge, then the the proper word is recondite

Calculus is recondite for pupils who haven’t even studied Algebra.


How about obscure?

According to M-W, obscure implies a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge.

According to Cambridge, obscure means to make something difficult to discover and understand


The methodology used by X to derive Y from Z is obscure.

X based her derivation of Y from Z on an obscure methodology.

X's methodology obscures his derivation of Z from Y.

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    I think it is too much figurative, I would need a more neutral word.
    – Antoine C.
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 17:07
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    @AntoineC. I don't know what you mean by figurative in this context. I also don't see how there could be a neutral word for something inherently negative: someone making something "very difficult to understand" for the purpose of obfuscation. In contrast to intricate, for example, and to incomprehensible, impenetrable, etc., the Cambridge definition captures this intentionality. It's also not hard to imagine using it in an academic paper. Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 17:38

You have already used the word obfuscate. The corresponding adjective is obfuscatory

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