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 ciphering (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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for cipher

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Suzanne Cordeiro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Lil Uzi Vert, perhaps the defining rap star of the past few years, is a cipher, a whirlwind, an alien. Jon Caramanica, New York Times, "Lil Uzi Vert, a Hip-Hop Star Beyond Gatekeepers," 23 Mar. 2020 As criticism rained down, Kushner was content to remain a cipher, often seen but rarely heard. Brian Bennett, Time, "Inside Jared Kushner’s Unusual White House Role," 16 Jan. 2020 McGarrett took a picture of the cipher before handing it over – but that proves to be a literal dead end. Bill Keveney, USA TODAY, "'Hawaii Five-0' finale recap: 'Aloha' to McGarrett and Danno, with nods to the past," 4 Apr. 2020 This allegory about Chauncey Gardener — a childlike cipher who becomes a shamanic adviser to Washington’s elite — feels exceptionally well suited for the present moment. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, "The 34 best political movies ever made," 23 Jan. 2020 But, Morris pointed out, that means that outdoor transmission is something of a cipher right now. Joe Lindsey, Outside Online, "Inside the Controversial 6-Foot Social-Distancing Study," 17 Apr. 2020 The malware uses the RC4 encryption cipher with a different 64-bit key for each target. Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, "Never-before-seen attackers are targeting Mideast industrial organizations," 25 Mar. 2020 Additionally, the Zodiac's many coded messages sent to newspapers between 1969 and 1974 proved hard to crack, and some parts of the ciphers have never been fully figured out. Martha Sorren, refinery29.com, "As The Most Dangerous Animal Of All Revists The Zodiac Killer, Here’s What You Need To Know," 6 Mar. 2020 In May 1940, in the continuing absence of any formal liaison with the FBI, MI5 detained a cipher clerk working at the U.S. embassy in London and charged him with stealing copies of Winston Churchill’s private correspondence with President Roosevelt. Nigel West, Time, "MI5 and the FBI Evolved Alongside One Another, But Their Relationship Hasn’t Always Been Constructive," 22 Nov. 2019 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cipher

Time Traveler for cipher

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for cipher

Last Updated

22 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cipher.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cipher. Accessed 31 May. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for cipher

cipher

noun
How to pronounce cipher (audio)

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on cipher

What made you want to look up cipher? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

May 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a blooming wisteria tree
  • Which is a synonym of exiguous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!