From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Obscenity (in Latin obscenus, meaning "foul, repulsive, detestable", possibly derived from ob caenum, literally "from filth"). The term is most often used in a legal context to describe expressions (words, images, actions) that offend the prevalent sexual morality of the time.
Despite its long formal and informal use with a sexual connotation, the word still retains the meanings of "inspiring disgust" and even "inauspicious; ill-omened", as in such uses as "obscene profits", "the obscenity of war", and the like. It can simply be used to mean profanity, or it can mean anything that is taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting.
The definition of obscenity differs from culture to culture, between communities within a single culture, and also between individuals within those communities. Many cultures have produced laws to define what is considered to be obscene, and censorship is often used to try to suppress or control materials that are obscene under these definitions, usually including, but not limited to pornographic material. Because the concept of obscenity is often ill-defined, it can be used as a political tool to try to restrict freedom of expression. Thus, the definition of obscenity can be a civil liberties issue.
- United Kingdom obscenity law
- United States obscenity law
- Censorship of obscenity in the United States
- Censorship in the United States
- First Amendment to the United States Constitution
Numerous sources give something on the lines of: from the Latin word obscenus, meaning "foul, repulsive, detestable", and possibly derived from ob caenum, literally "from filth". The book Obscene: The history of an indignation dedicates several pages exploring the different possibilities regarding its etymology.
The first conviction for "obscenity" can be observed in Great Britaiin in 1725 when The Whitehall Evening Post, claims that Lord Townshend was responsible for having Edmund Curll arrested in 1725 because he published "obscene Books and Pamphlets, tending to encourage Vice and Immorality".
- "Explanation Concerning Obscenities" (18c) by Pierre Bayle
- The Reinvention of Obscenity
- The Traffic in Obscenity from Byron to Beardsley