cipher

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

Definition of cipher 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a : zero sense 1a

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\-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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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

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 Laurel remains a cipher, a comic type, a star without a name. Jason Zinoman, New York Times, "Imagining the Unhappy Life of Stan Laurel," 1 June 2018 Mike serves as a kind of cipher for this coming-of-age realization in the show. Leah Beckmann, The Cut, "Magic Mike Live: Las Vegas," 21 June 2018 The North Koreans passed the haul to their Russian sponsors, whose various military spy and cipher organs could read U.S. strategic and tactical communications for years afterwards. WSJ, "Pueblo Capture: A Failure of Senior Officers," 5 June 2018 While the Bond films have offered brief glimpses into the psychology over the years, most of which coming during Craig’s run, the character still feels like a bit of a cipher in terms of a personal life. Richard Newby, The Hollywood Reporter, "Is There Anything Left for Daniel Craig to Do as James Bond?," 16 Mar. 2018 At a slowed pace, space becomes a cipher for memory. Cate Mcquaid, BostonGlobe.com, "Suara Welitoff’s videos help us see things afresh," 30 May 2018 In a perfect world, David Sajewich, who plays the lead, would have more definition, but that is the perennial risk of this role, which can easily become a cipher, although that hardly is ideal — Bobby has to take charge of being Bobby. Chris Jones, chicagotribune.com, "Venus now has 'Company,' as Southport Corridor venue opens with Sondheim musical," 25 Apr. 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

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

Verb

see cipher entry 1

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Statistics for cipher

Last Updated

12 Sep 2018

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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Comments on cipher

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