Commonly when we hear 'observatory' we probably think of an astronomical observatory. Merriam-Webster defines 'observatory' as:

  1. a building or place given over to or equipped for observation of natural phenomena (as in astronomy) also : an institution whose primary purpose is making such observations
  2. a situation or structure commanding a wide view

...so there are non-astronomical natural-phenomena observatories - like volcano observatory ("provides continuous and periodic monitoring of the seismicity, other geophysical changes, ground movements, volcanic gas chemistry," etc), but there are now many modern-day usages that don't fit into the dictionary definition:

These observatories are observing technical, corporate, social, political data, not 'natural' phenomena, so they're not well covered by definition 1), and definition 2) only very-loosely conveys what these newer observatories are like.

So, my question is: "What would be a better definition of 'Observatory' that includes these modern usages?"

As an example, in the comments, Greybeard suggested: "An observatory is a place from which observations (about anything) are made. It can even be abstract."

  • I don’t offer this as a general answer, but in some circumstances I see the word “Centre” (American “Center”) used in this way.
    – Anton
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 8:42
  • "Something that observes"
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 12:31
  • I suppose 'overlook' and 'watchtower' have too much baggage. Commented Oct 2, 2022 at 14:10
  • 1
    These are all simply metaphorical uses of the term. The dictionary compilers just haven't decided that this use is common enough to be a new definition.
    – Barmar
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 19:00
  • 3
    I’m voting to close this question because the question is based upon one dictionary entry that has been assumed to be universally true and infallible: it is not. -- An observatory is a place from which observations (about anything) are made. It can even be abstract.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Oct 14, 2022 at 9:19

1 Answer 1


You can use another word "watch"

It includes all the definitions you are looking for in the examples provided. This link to Merriam-Webster entry has all the definitions listed and the list is too long to be posted here.

Supposing, that you want to broaden the definitions of "observatory" provided in the dictionaries to include the example usage above, if you are not a dictionary editor in one of the major English dictionaries, I do not know how you would go about that.

  • Thanks banuyayi! I'm not specifically interested in how to include a new definition in dictionaries, though obviously that would be very cool. I'm more trying to figure out - if I was trying to define 'observatory' for a person, what definition could I give that would include those usages of 'observatory' included in the question description? Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 13:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.