cipher

noun, often attributive
ci·​pher | \ ˈsī-fər How to pronounce cipher (audio) \

Definition of cipher

 (Entry 1 of 2)

b : one that has no weight, worth, or influence : nonentity It was an odd fact that the financier, a cipher in his own home, could impress all sorts of people at the office.— P. G. Wodehouse Why did the family, I wondered, act as if Rita hardly existed? Was she that much of a cipher?— Andrew M. Greeley
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 How to pronounce cipher (audio) \

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

Synonyms: Verb

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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 The congressional candidate has been a cipher by design, speaking in vague terms about his work experiences and personal life. Jacob Silverman, The New Republic, 5 July 2021 These direct address segments provide helpful insight, as Cephas Jones imbues the character with her own watchfulness, making Ashley something of a cipher. New York Times, 11 June 2021 The team, led by David Oranchak of Virginia, concluded the cipher didn’t say anything helpful. Kevin Fagan, San Francisco Chronicle, 1 July 2021 Joel was the radical; Richard, the lover; Giles, the organizer; Jimmy, the enfant terrible; and Doug, the cipher. Hugh Ryan, Harper's BAZAAR, 8 June 2021 In today’s digital world, the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is ubiquitous and contains cipher methods largely unbreakable by current computers. Nicolas Dupont, Forbes, 3 June 2021 The task force tries to steal a cipher machine that can decrypt coded messages, and Townsend tests Liz’s loyalty. Anying Guo, Washington Post, 30 Apr. 2021 The Carnival also debuts Kia’s new, corporate logo, a gestalt-y cipher, prominent on the steering wheel hub. Dan Neil, WSJ, 23 Apr. 2021 Yet the series’s star may also be its biggest cipher. Sarah Bahr, New York Times, 16 Apr. 2021 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, 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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Time Traveler for cipher

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for cipher

Last Updated

16 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cipher.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cipher. Accessed 26 Jul. 2021.

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More Definitions for cipher

cipher

noun

English Language Learners Definition of cipher

technical : a way of changing a message to keep it secret
formal + disapproving : a person who has no power or is not important

cipher

noun
ci·​pher | \ ˈsī-fər How to pronounce cipher (audio) \

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

More from Merriam-Webster on 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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