enigmatic

adjective

enig·​mat·​ic ˌe-(ˌ)nig-ˈma-tik How to pronounce enigmatic (audio)
 also  ˌē-(ˌ)nig-
variants or less commonly enigmatical
ˌe-(ˌ)nig-ˈma-ti-kəl How to pronounce enigmatic (audio)
 also  ˌē-(ˌ)nig-
: of, relating to, or resembling an enigma : mysterious
enigmatically
ˌe-(ˌ)nig-ˈma-ti-k(ə-)lē How to pronounce enigmatic (audio)
 also  ˌē-(ˌ)nig-
adverb

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The Origin of Enigmatic Isn't a Mystery

An enigma is a puzzle, a riddle, a mystery. The adjective enigmatic describes what is hard to solve or figure out. An enigmatic person is someone who is a bit mysterious to others. Behind an enigmatic smile are thoughts impossible to guess. The word enigma originally referred not to people or smiles but to words, and specifically to words that formed a riddle or a complicated metaphor that tested one's alertness and cleverness. This meaning is clearly connected to the word's origin. Enigma comes from the Greek word ainissesthai, meaning "to speak in riddles."

Choose the Right Synonym for enigmatic

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 enigmatic in a Sentence

Space seethes with an enormous enigmatic energy, and, each second, trillions of cubic light-years more of it materializes from nothingness. Bob Berman, Astronomy, November 2007
You'll recognize them by their enigmatic smile and faraway look as they jog, skate, commute, or wander the aisles of the supermarket. Consumer Reports, December 2005
Despite all that has been written—and surmised—about him, Bill Gates remains the enigmatic ringmaster of the digital circus. J. D. Reed, People, 15 Mar. 1999
the discovery of the abandoned ship in mid ocean remains one of the most enigmatic episodes in seafaring history the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile
Recent Examples on the Web These enigmatic sites carry the visitor back to a time when writing and metal tools were unknown, farming was a still novel idea, and stone monuments established a community’s presence on the landscape. Dan Falk, Discover Magazine, 6 Apr. 2024 Even the uninitiated, though, should be drawn in by the moody atmosphere, enigmatic style and the show’s willingness to take risks in a way that rewards the audience’s patience. Brian Lowry, CNN, 4 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for enigmatic 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'enigmatic.' 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

see enigma

First Known Use

1609, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of enigmatic was in 1609

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Cite this Entry

“Enigmatic.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/enigmatic. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

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