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

Definition of sub-rosa

 (Entry 1 of 2)

sub rosa

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

Definition of sub rosa (Entry 2 of 2)

: in confidence : secretly

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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: Adverb 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, "The Cold, Imperious Beauty of Donald Judd," 2 Mar. 2020 Le Carré gradually builds his cast of engaging, sub rosa characters. Don Oldenburg, USA TODAY, "'Agent Running in the Field' a modern spy thriller from master John le Carré," 22 Oct. 2019 One of Weinstein’s sub rosa retainers was an Israeli intelligence company called — no joke, Mr. Bond — Black Cube. Author: Paul Farhi, Anchorage Daily News, "Ronan Farrow overcame spies, intimidation to break some of the biggest stories of the #MeToo era," 11 Oct. 2019 Yet after Great Recession, these sub rosa rumblings are starting to go public. Mike Konczal, Vox, "How low can unemployment go? Economists keep getting the answer wrong.," 4 May 2018 There is within the government now a sort of sub rosa effort to see how much of the executive power safely can be leached away from a president* and an administration* so clearly unable to handle much more than a takeout order. Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, "If the President* Is Uniquely Dangerous, Treat Him That Way," 11 Jan. 2018

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


1824, in the meaning defined above


1654, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for sub-rosa


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

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Learn More about sub-rosa

Time Traveler for sub-rosa

Time Traveler

The first known use of sub-rosa was in 1654

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Statistics for sub-rosa

Cite this Entry

“Sub-rosa.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Oct. 2020.

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