adjective cryp·tic \ ˈkrip-tik \
|Updated on: 14 Aug 2018

Definition of cryptic

1 : secret, occult
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


play \ˈkrip-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

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Examples of cryptic in a Sentence

  1. … his hectic characters either communicate in choppy or cryptic exchanges or rattle on in breathless recitations full of contradictions and asides. —Donna SeamanBooklist15 Mar. 1994
  2. 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 DoveNew York Times Book Review9 Oct. 1988
  3. 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 MaughamOf Human Bondage1915
  4. His instructions were cryptic. He said only to wait until we felt certain the answer was clear.

  5. puzzled by the cryptic e-mail message left on his computer

Recent Examples of cryptic from the Web

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

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, in fact, something "cryptic" can sometimes seem as if written in code.

Origin and Etymology of cryptic

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

Synonym Discussion of 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

CRYPTIC Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of cryptic for English Language Learners

  • : difficult to understand : having or seeming to have a hidden meaning

CRYPTIC Defined for Kids


adjective cryp·tic \ ˈkrip-tik \

Definition of cryptic for Students

: difficult to understand or make sense of
  • He left a cryptic message.

Medical Dictionary


adjective cryp·tic \ ˈkrip-tik \

medical Definition of cryptic

1 : serving to conceal
  • cryptic coloration in animals
2 : not recognized
  • a cryptic infection
  • cryptic cases of lead poisoning


play \-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

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having an air of easy unconcern

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