mys·​ti·​fy ˈmi-stə-ˌfī How to pronounce mystify (audio)
mystified; mystifying

transitive verb

: to perplex the mind of : bewilder
: to make mysterious or obscure
mystify an interpretation of a prophecy
mystifier noun
mystifyingly adverb

Examples of mystify in a Sentence

The cause of the disease mystified doctors for many years. The magician has been mystifying his audiences for years with his amazing tricks.
Recent Examples on the Web The inequity has mystified some of the 55 million people of Myanmar, who in the months after the coup lobbied the United Nations to intervene to protect a vulnerable population. Hannah Beech Adam Ferguson, New York Times, 20 Apr. 2024 These are mystifying events with rational explanations. Brian Klaas, The Atlantic, 10 Apr. 2024 The Great American Eclipse of 2017 mystified tiny marine creatures known as zooplankton. Defne Karabatur, Los Angeles Times, 6 Apr. 2024 American racial attitudes sometimes mystified them. Peter Hessler, The New Yorker, 1 Apr. 2024 Its distinct polar and desert regions have intrigued and mystified astronomers for years. Christian Thorsberg, Smithsonian Magazine, 25 Mar. 2024 Instead, Nolan mystifies Oppenheimer as a cerebral political martyr and nihilist hero. Armond White, National Review, 13 Mar. 2024 Everett’s fiction frequently mystifies critics, who excuse their mystification by describing his work as confounding. Maya Binyam, The New Yorker, 11 Mar. 2024 These events took place years ago, and the fluency that kids had with cosmetic practices mystified me then. Elise Hu, The Atlantic, 24 Feb. 2024

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

Word History


borrowed from French mystifier "to hoodwink, dupe," from Greek mýstēs "person initiated (into a religious cult)" + French -ifier -ify — more at mystic entry 1

Note: French mystifier was used by 18th-century literati in the context of elaborate practical jokes in which some pseudo-magical procedure would be performed on the subject of the joke as a sort of mock initiation. Such a joke is described by the playwright Charles-Simon Favart (1710-92) in a letter of June 24, 1760, apparently the earliest known occurrence of the verb: one Poinsinet is persuaded that the application of a magic ointment has made him invisible and he then becomes the butt of various jests. According to Favart, Poinsinet was dubbed le mystifié (presumably, "one made an initiate") as a result of the jests, which he refers to collectively as la mystification. (See Mémoires et correspondances littéraires, dramatiques et anecdotiques de C.S. Favart, tome 1, Paris, 1808, p. 50-52.) The meaning of the English word has been influenced by mystery entry 1, mystical, etc.

First Known Use

1814, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of mystify was in 1814

Dictionary Entries Near mystify

Cite this Entry

“Mystify.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


mys·​ti·​fy ˈmis-tə-ˌfī How to pronounce mystify (audio)
mystified; mystifying
: to confuse thoroughly the understanding of : perplex
mystified by his behavior

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