I'm Not So Sure... 10 Words for When You're Hazy on the Details

Let's face it: there are going to be times when things seem too vague, or too complicated, to even start to talk about them. This list from our friends at Vocabulary.com is for those times. There is a very large vocabulary for things we can't quite see clearly through the haze of our misunderstanding. But if we can accurately and eloquently describe our problem, perhaps we will be on the road to clearing it up. Here are ten words about the misty, the ill-formed, and the complex.

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1.       nebulous

lacking definite form or limits

This word is from Latin nebulosus, which meant "misty, foggy." The English word with this literal meaning has been around since the 14th century, but the figurative use of the word ("nebulous feelings," "nebulous statements") isn't attested until the mid-19th century. 


2.       amorphous
having no definite form or distinct shape

This comes from the Greek amorphos "without form, shapeless, deformed." It has a technical meaning for things lacking a solid structure, but it works equally well to describe ideas that are half-baked. 


3.     murky
(of liquids) clouded as with sediment

A murky liquid is one that is hard to see through, so the word has been metaphorically extended to anything that simply isn't clear. Murk comes from Old Norse myrkr "darkness." 


4.      muddle 
a confused multitude of things

Appropriately, perhaps, the etymology of this word is a bit unclear. It could be a direct descendant of mud, or it could derive from the Dutch verb for "to make water muddy," moddelen.


5.      tenebrous 
dark and gloomy

This word comes from Latin tenebrae, meaning "darkness." Interestingly, tenebrae is also connected to English temerity, a word for foolish audacity — the semantic link between the two connects "blindness" and "lack of foresight."


6.      recondite 
difficult to penetrate; incomprehensible to one of ordinary understanding or knowledge

This comes from recondere, Latin for "store away, hide, conceal." The modern sense stems from the idea that some things are so complicated or difficult to comprehend that they remain "hidden" from most people.


7.      arcane 
requiring secret or mysterious knowledge

Latin arcanus, meaning "secret, hidden, private, concealed", is the immediate ancestor. But this word can be traced further back to arca, "chest, box, place for safekeeping" — in other words, where you would conceal your secrets.


8.      ambiguous 
having more than one possible meaning

The Latin verb from which this adjective derives, ambigere, means "to dispute about." Hence, ambiguous things are often debated in a heated fashion.


9.      bewilder
be a mystery or bewildering to

This word breaks down into two parts: be-, an intensifier, and wilder, an archaic verb meaning "lead astray, lure into the wilds" (probably related to wilderness). There are other nature-based expressions for being perplexed or overwhelmed, like "in the weeds."


10.   esoteric 
confined to and understandable by only an enlightened inner circle

The roots of this word are in Greek esoterikos, meaning "belonging to an inner circle," in turn from esotero, meaning "further inside." An insider's view on a subject can be impenetrable to the non-cognoscenti.


To see more words for hazy uncertainty, and to add them to your vocabulary-learning program, see the full list at Vocabulary.com.


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