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Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edition (2004) says:

oblivion, n.

2. a. The state or condition of being forgotten; (also, more generally) obscurity, nothingness, void, death.

However, what makes me puzzled is that although I've ever seen many times the word is used in such ways, I had had a hard time trying to find this definition, for almost every other dictionary I consulted didn't seem to refer to this sense, including the immediately previous version (1989) of OED:

oblivion, n.

2. a. The state or condition of being forgotten. (Hence many phrases and fig. expressions.)

My questions are:

  • Is the sense like "obscurity, nothingness, void, death" emerging (or recognized) this recently?
  • Is it a unique connotation tied to oblivion, or generally carried by the concept of "forgottenness" in English (or, perhaps European) language so that they don't need to clarify?
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  • You might search for examples of the phrase blown into oblivion. For example, The White Room - D.C. Charters - Google Books could be read as void.
    – user3169
    Jan 24, 2016 at 2:57
  • Also, Bone Hunter - Sarah Andrews - Google Books. Not void but definitely nothingness and destruction.
    – user3169
    Jan 24, 2016 at 3:04
  • @user3169 Thanks. Actually what I mean is not that I don't know this usage, in fact, I've ever run into those phrases many times while my dictionaries seemingly ignore it. Jan 24, 2016 at 3:19
  • Maybe it is pop culture that didn't make it to literary circles...
    – user3169
    Jan 24, 2016 at 4:03
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    @J.R. Hmm ... I'm afraid Rev. Stevens' metaphors are more remarkable for feeling than for precision: this seems to me a very dubious transfer of the viewer's oblivion (obliviousness to the prayers) to the field of vision. In any case, to say that the prayers are invisible in the vastness of space is not the same thing as to say they are invisible in the emptiness of space. Jan 24, 2016 at 11:34

2 Answers 2

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Void and oblivion have always had close meanings. The 1828 Webster's dictionary offers this definition for oblivion:

  1. Forgetfulness; cessation of remembrance.
  2. A forgetting of offenses, or remission of punishment.

And this for void:

  1. To vacate; to annul; to nullify; to render of no validity or effect.
  2. Free; clear; as a conscience void of offense.

As you can see, both words have long referred to wiping something out, or to an absence of something, or a legal annulment. From there, oblivion has taken on another meaning of void, namely:

VOID, n. An empty space; a vacuum.

Examples of usage:

"Oblivion refers to things forgotten... things are lost in oblivion." -- G.F. Graham, English Synonymes, 1867

"...deeper than oblivion do we bury the incensing relicks of it." -- W. Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well, c1605

"...the eye even sought relief, in vain, by attempting to pierce the illimitable void of heaven..." -- J.F. Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans, 1826

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." -- Genesis 1:2, KJV Bible

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  • Curiously use of vacuum in industrial processess started about the 19c, probably leading to the adoption of the newer definiton of the word 'void'. Note that it is total speculation on my part. Looking at the etemology of the two words the word oblivion has its origins in the meaning 'to forget'. Void on the other hand comes from words meaning 'avoid' or 'vacate'.
    – drynyn
    Mar 19, 2016 at 15:51
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Oblivion family of words consists of the oblivious too "Word Family "oblivious oblivionoblivious the "oblivion" family Usage Examples" Oblivion is the state of being forgotten. If you slip into oblivion after selling one record, then your only hope is becoming a "VH1 one-hit wonder." Oblivion can also mean "total forgetfulness" — like what patients with dementia or new parents feel. If you find yourself putting the crackers in the fridge and milk in the cupboards, or forgetting your own phone number, you might be experiencing oblivion. Enjoy it while it lasts."

Vide https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/oblivious I also easily located the above words at AHD.

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