cryptic

adjective

cryp·​tic ˈkrip-tik How to pronounce cryptic (audio)
1
2
a
: having or seeming to have a hidden or ambiguous meaning : mysterious
cryptic messages
cryptic prophecies
b
: marked by an often perplexing brevity
cryptic marginal notes
3
: serving to conceal
cryptic coloration in animals
also : exhibiting cryptic coloration
cryptic animals
4
: not recognized
a cryptic infection
5
: employing cipher or code
cryptically adverb

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The Mysterious Origins of Cryptic

The history of cryptic starts with kryptein, a Greek word meaning "to hide." Can you uncover other kryptein relatives in English? Not surprisingly, crypt, meaning "underground chamber," is one. The element krypton would be another correct guess, and so would apocrypha, which can mean "writings of dubious authenticity." Kryptein also gave us several words having to do with secret codes, such as cryptogram ("a communication in cipher or code") and cryptography ("the coding and decoding of secret messages"). And cryptocurrency is currency that exists digitally and that relies on computer encryption (secret code) to prevent counterfeiting and fraud.

Choose the Right Synonym for cryptic

obscure, dark, vague, enigmatic, cryptic, ambiguous, equivocal mean not clearly understandable.

obscure implies a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge.

obscure poems

dark implies an imperfect or clouded revelation often with ominous or sinister suggestion.

muttered dark hints of revenge

vague implies a lack of clear formulation due to inadequate conception or consideration.

a vague sense of obligation

enigmatic stresses a puzzling, mystifying quality.

enigmatic occult writings

cryptic implies a purposely concealed meaning.

cryptic hints of hidden treasure

ambiguous applies to language capable of more than one interpretation.

an ambiguous directive

equivocal applies to language left open to differing interpretations with the intention of deceiving or evading.

moral precepts with equivocal phrasing

Examples of cryptic in a Sentence

… his hectic characters either communicate in choppy or cryptic exchanges or rattle on in breathless recitations full of contradictions and asides. Donna Seaman, Booklist, 15 Mar. 1994
Since Hughes's poems contained neither Eliot's footnotes nor Ezra Pound's cryptic orientalism, many critics and editors assumed the poet unintelligent and his work raw or, at best, slight. Rita Dove, New York Times Book Review, 9 Oct. 1988
The remark seemed cryptic to Philip, but when he heard her say it two or three times to different persons, and found that it aroused hearty agreement, he came to the conclusion that it was only obscure to his own intelligence. W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, 1915
His instructions were cryptic. He said only to wait until we felt certain the answer was clear. puzzled by the cryptic e-mail message left on his computer
Recent Examples on the Web As of Sunday, Trump was silent about the death in an Arctic prison colony of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, except for a cryptic social media post suggesting that he has been persecuted by Biden just as Navalny was persecuted by Putin. Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times, 19 Feb. 2024 Taylor Nation’s cryptic posts about secrets In the month leading up to Swift’s album announcement, her official fan site Taylor Nation began to drop some subtle clues. Kelsie Gibson, Peoplemag, 5 Feb. 2024 On the home front, things are equally unsettled: Our hero comes home one day to find his mother has inexplicably vacated the premises for a two-week motel stay, leaving behind a cryptic note and a fortnight’s worth of precooked dinners. Dennis Harvey, Variety, 25 Jan. 2024 Indeed, the authorities that Religious Zionist rabbis quote from are almost exclusively Talmudic sages, whose comments are brief and cryptic enough to serve any political point. Jordan Castro, Harper's Magazine, 9 Jan. 2024 Colbert made sure to have fun with the director in the cold open, referencing Nolan’s cryptic filmmaking style. Tatiana Tenreyro, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Feb. 2024 The 29-time Grammy winner made the announcement on Instagram, posting a cryptic video featuring apparent home movie footage of her mother’s salon Headliners, in Houston, Texas — where Beyoncé had her first job sweeping hair. Leah Dolan, CNN, 7 Feb. 2024 The president offered only cryptic remarks when asked whether a direct link to Iran had been established in the attack. Mikhail Klimentov, Washington Post, 1 Feb. 2024 Spears also appears to have been made aware of the clip, taking to Instagram with a cryptic message underneath an image of a basketball hoop (basketball was a big part of their relationship back in their heyday). Emily Tannenbaum, Glamour, 1 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cryptic.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

borrowed from Late Latin crypticus "hidden," borrowed from Late Greek kryptikós "obscuring" (Greek kryptikôs "secretly"), from kryptós "hidden, secret" + -ikos -ic entry 1 — more at crypt

First Known Use

1620, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of cryptic was in 1620

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Dictionary Entries Near cryptic

Cite this Entry

“Cryptic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cryptic. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

cryptic

adjective
cryp·​tic ˈkrip-tik How to pronounce cryptic (audio)
1
: meant to be puzzling or mysterious
a cryptic remark
2
: serving to conceal
cryptic coloring of an animal
cryptically adverb

Medical Definition

cryptic

adjective
cryp·​tic ˈkrip-tik How to pronounce cryptic (audio)
1
: serving to conceal
cryptic coloration in animals
2
: not recognized
a cryptic infection
cryptic cases of lead poisoning
cryptically adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on cryptic

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