cipher

noun, often attributive
ci·​pher | \ ˈsī-fər \

Definition of cipher

 (Entry 1 of 2)

b : one that has no weight, worth, or influence : nonentity She was nothing more than a cipher.
2a : a method of transforming a text in order to conceal its meaning secret communications written in cipher — compare code sense 3b
b : a message in code The cipher cannot be decoded without the key.
4 : a combination of symbolic letters especially : the interwoven initials of a name coins that bore the cipher of the sultan

cipher

verb
ciphered; ciphering\ ˈsī-​f(ə-​)riŋ \

Definition of cipher (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to use figures in a mathematical process all children should learn to read, write, and cipher— M. Pattison

transitive verb

1 : encipher ciphered the letters that passed between the two heads of state
2 : to compute arithmetically ciphered out the sum in his head

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Synonyms for cipher

Synonyms: Noun

aught, goose egg, naught (also nought), nil, nothing, o, oh, zero, zilch, zip

Synonyms: Verb

calculate, compute, figure, reckon, work out

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Examples of cipher in a Sentence

Noun

a cipher that can't be decoded She was nothing more than a cipher.

Verb

were surprised by how much we had spent on the cruise after we had ciphered out the grand total
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

However, a different version of the couple's joint cipher appeared on their wedding cake in 2011, where the C and W were overlaid. Erica Gonzales, Harper's BAZAAR, "How Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's Monogram Compares to Kate Middleton and Prince William's," 31 July 2018 The process is supposed to take multiple days given the rate at which the game doles out new letters for the nuclear codes, in addition to having to break a cipher just to put it all into use. Patricia Hernandez, The Verge, "Fallout 76’s first end-game nuke launches, starts apocalyptic battle," 15 Nov. 2018 In former MI5 Assistant Director Peter Wright's book Spycatcher, Wright recounted how British intelligence used a phone tap to record audio from an Egyptian embassy's cipher machine during the Suez Crisis. Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica, "Researchers find way to spy on remote screens—through the webcam mic," 28 Aug. 2018 And the show has been (lightly) criticized for turning Budd in to something of a cipher. Chloe Schama, Vogue, "Bodyguard Is the Best Political Thriller Since Homeland," 24 Oct. 2018 The joint logo certainly looks curlier and more ornate than the Duke and Duchess' individual ciphers. Erica Gonzales, Harper's BAZAAR, "How Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's Monogram Compares to Kate Middleton and Prince William's," 31 July 2018 On the other hand, them being ciphers is kind of the point. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "Is Westworld moving forward or going in circles?," 18 June 2018 On the page, its words can seem as blunt and cipher-like as notes on a musical staff. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: In an Energized ‘Iceman,’ the Drinks are on Denzel," 26 Apr. 2018 His mother had worked for Army intelligence as a cipher clerk in South Africa during World War II. Robert F. Worth, New York Times, "Can Jim Mattis Hold the Line in Trump’s ‘War Cabinet’?," 26 Mar. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

These remnants, signals from an earlier phase of our human condition, have been endlessly ciphered by generations of archaeologists in the Bears Ears region (which is named for twin buttes near its center). Stephen Nash, New York Times, "At Bears Ears in Utah, Heated Politics and Precious Ruins," 25 July 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cipher.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of cipher

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Verb

circa 1530, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for cipher

Noun and Verb

Middle English, from Medieval Latin cifra, from Arabic ṣifr empty, cipher, zero

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Statistics for cipher

Last Updated

14 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for cipher

The first known use of cipher was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for cipher

cipher

noun

English Language Learners Definition of cipher

: a way of changing a message to keep it secret

: a person who has no power or is not important

cipher

noun
ci·​pher | \ ˈsī-fər \

Kids Definition of cipher

 (Entry 1 of 2)

2 : a method of secret writing or the alphabet or letters and symbols used in such writing
3 : a message in code

cipher

verb
ciphered; ciphering

Kids Definition of cipher (Entry 2 of 2)

: to use figures in doing a problem in arithmetic : calculate

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More from Merriam-Webster on cipher

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cipher

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cipher

Spanish Central: Translation of cipher

Nglish: Translation of cipher for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cipher for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about cipher

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