1 of 2


sub-ro·​sa ˌsəb-ˈrō-zə How to pronounce sub-rosa (audio)

sub rosa

2 of 2


sub ro·​sa ˌsəb-ˈrō-zə How to pronounce sub rosa (audio)
: in confidence : secretly

Did you know?

Sub Rosa and Secrecy

Sub rosa literally means "under the rose" in New Latin. Since ancient times, the rose has often been associated with secrecy. In ancient mythology, Cupid gave a rose to Harpocrates, the god of silence, to keep him from telling about the indiscretions of Venus. Ceilings of dining rooms have been decorated with carvings of roses, reportedly to remind guests that what was said at the table should be kept confidential. Roses have also been placed over confessionals as a symbol of the confidentiality of confession. Sub rosa entered the English language in the 17th century, and even before then, people were using the English version, "under the rose." Earlier still, unter der Rose was apparently used in Germany, where the phrase is thought to have originated.

Examples of sub-rosa in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
The idea that that energy is continuing 25 years later, in a kind of sub rosa away, was very fun for us. Kate Aurthur, Variety, 17 Jan. 2022 Still, the Nobel Prize Committee is known for making political statements, sub rosa and otherwise, with its choices. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 7 Oct. 2021 Some of the most exciting scenes in Donner's book star Don Heath Jr., the tween son of an American embassy official and sub rosa intelligence officer. Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 18 Aug. 2021 Even today psilocybin is popular in America, though its use, like the use of all psychedelics, is largely sub rosa. Rebecca Coffey, Forbes, 5 Apr. 2021 There is something about the way the world relates to women that is bound to breed darkness — even if that darkness is sub rosa, hidden under blond curls and pretty dresses. New York Times, 17 Dec. 2020 Everything was sub rosa — not just the historians' work, but even, when the essays began to be published in November 2013, the final product. The Salt Lake Tribune, 28 Oct. 2020 The chance surely won’t recur to take the measure—platinum-iridium grade or not—of an artist whose influence on our art and, sub rosa, our lives in common, remains beyond large, engulfing. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, 2 Mar. 2020 Le Carré gradually builds his cast of engaging, sub rosa characters. Don Oldenburg, USA TODAY, 22 Oct. 2019

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

Word History



New Latin, literally, under the rose; from the ancient association of the rose with secrecy

First Known Use


1824, in the meaning defined above


1654, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of sub-rosa was in 1654

Dictionary Entries Near sub-rosa

Cite this Entry

“Sub-rosa.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!