de·​ci·​pher | \dē-ˈsī-fər \

Definition of decipher 

transitive verb

1 : decode sense 1a decipher a secret message

2 obsolete : depict with her majesty's name deciphered in gold letters— Jonathan Swift

3a : to make out the meaning of despite indistinctness or obscurity trying to decipher her handwriting

b : to interpret the meaning of decipher the poem

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Other Words from decipher

decipherable \-​f(ə-​)rə-​bəl \ adjective
decipherer \-​fər-​ər \ noun
decipherment \-​fər-​mənt \ noun

Examples of decipher in a Sentence

I couldn't decipher his sloppy handwriting. we deciphered the hidden message to find out when we were supposed to meet

Recent Examples on the Web

During a manual recount, only those ballots are re-examined to see whether the voter skipped the race or marked the ballot in a way that cannot be machine read but can be deciphered. Terry Spencer, The Seattle Times, "Is Florida really screwed up? Its election recount explained," 14 Nov. 2018 The essential role pigeons played in the war effort was further reinforced when the coded message found attached to the pigeon in the Surrey chimney was finally deciphered. Hilda Kean, WSJ, "‘Operation Columba’ Review: Carriers of Hope," 7 Nov. 2018 Fans have been busy unraveling clues for months now: Hidden messages in the file names of photos gave early references to song and album titles, along with things still left to be deciphered. Paige Williams, Billboard, "Twenty One Pilots' 'Trench': Decoding the Clues They've Left About Their New Album," 12 July 2018 Without it, the encoded message couldn’t be deciphered. Tim Folger, Discover Magazine, "Chance Encounters," 17 Aug. 2018 Media executives spent much of the conference’s first full day trying to decipher whether Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts intends to continue the chase for the Fox assets. Ben Dummett, WSJ, "Comcast Raises Sky Offer After Fox Sweetened Its Bid," 12 July 2018 But those who spend their days trying to decipher the complex, often contradictory being that is the current American president could find a great deal of fresh food for thought to chew on. Washington Post, "Dear Mr. Chairman: An extraordinary letter from Trump to Kim," 24 May 2018 At the Paris show in particular, there’s dissension in the crowd: The audience’s squalling cries are often difficult to decipher (grateful catharsis? Jon Pareles, New York Times, "The Playlist: Shawn Mendes Shows His Scars, and 9 More New Songs," 23 Mar. 2018 The lack of critical thinking from journalists — as in, the same people who are supposedly exploring our country with a critical lens — to decipher between an actually sexist joke from one that mentions makeup products is mind-boggling., "The White House Correspondents’ Dinner Debacle Proves That We — & The Media —Haven’t Learned Anything," 30 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'decipher.' 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 decipher

1545, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Statistics for decipher

Last Updated

29 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for decipher

The first known use of decipher was in 1545

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More Definitions for decipher



English Language Learners Definition of decipher

: to find the meaning of (something that is difficult to read or understand)


de·​ci·​pher | \dē-ˈsī-fər \
deciphered; deciphering

Kids Definition of decipher

1 : to translate from secret or mysterious writing : decode

2 : to make out the meaning of something not clear I can't decipher her sloppy handwriting.

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More from Merriam-Webster on decipher

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with decipher

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for decipher

Spanish Central: Translation of decipher

Nglish: Translation of decipher for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of decipher for Arabic Speakers

Comments on decipher

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


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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