sub·​ter·​fuge ˈsəb-tər-ˌfyüj How to pronounce subterfuge (audio)
: deception by artifice or stratagem in order to conceal, escape, or evade
: a deceptive device or stratagem

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Subterfuge Has Latin Roots

Though subterfuge is a synonym of deception, fraud, double-dealing, and trickery, there's nothing tricky about the word's etymology. We borrowed the word and meaning from Late Latin subterfugium. That word contains the Latin prefix subter-, meaning "secretly," which derives from the adverb subter, meaning "underneath." The -fuge portion comes from the Latin verb fugere, which means "to flee" and which is also the source of words such as fugitive and refuge, among others.

Choose the Right Synonym for subterfuge

deception, fraud, double-dealing, subterfuge, trickery mean the acts or practices of one who deliberately deceives.

deception may or may not imply blameworthiness, since it may suggest cheating or merely tactical resource.

magicians are masters of deception

fraud always implies guilt and often criminality in act or practice.

indicted for fraud

double-dealing suggests treachery or at least action contrary to a professed attitude.

a go-between suspected of double-dealing

subterfuge suggests the adoption of a stratagem or the telling of a lie in order to escape guilt or to gain an end.

obtained the papers by subterfuge

trickery implies ingenious acts intended to dupe or cheat.

resorted to trickery to gain their ends

Examples of subterfuge in a Sentence

And the same kind of subterfuge that causes employees to open a virus-laden attachment could also lead them to unknowingly install programs that ship all their data to unscrupulous competitors. Paul Wallich, Scientific American, July 2000
Williams has worn a wedding ring for the past decade. Originally it was a fake diamond used as a subterfuge during her days as an activist in Central America … Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, February 1998
The first pool appeared on the scene in 1791, organized to manipulate stock of the U.S. Bank. Members of a pool contributed money, which was handed over to a single operator, who put into effect various strategies and subterfuges. He could depress the price of a stock, buy a lot at the low point, then artificially raise the price, and sell at a profit; or he might sell short, then depress the price and make a profit. Kathleen Odean, High Steppers, Fallen Angels, and Lollipops, 1988
They obtained the documents by subterfuge. propagandists who use a kind of photographic subterfuge, superimposing one image on another to create a false “reality”
Recent Examples on the Web And since even waiting did not produce results, the Israeli military has had to use all sorts of subterfuges to extract Hamas fighters from underground. Daphné Richemond-Barak, Foreign Affairs, 6 June 2024 It is changed, kicking and screaming, through subterfuge and sabotage and sometimes by force. Matt Brennan, Los Angeles Times, 6 June 2024 The very real threat of losing Ruby — who Ava seems very excited about but also cannot be herself around, see above re: car-crash subterfuge — is not enough to keep Ava from working with Deborah again. Jessica M. Goldstein, Vulture, 2 May 2024 Delving into stories of torture, subterfuge, and even federal agents joining a man accused of leaking secrets on his honeymoon makes for rapturous listening. Eliana Dockterman, TIME, 31 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for subterfuge 

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

Word History


Late Latin subterfugium, from Latin subterfugere to escape, evade, from subter- secretly (from subter underneath; akin to Latin sub under) + fugere to flee — more at up, fugitive

First Known Use

1573, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of subterfuge was in 1573


Dictionary Entries Near subterfuge

Cite this Entry

“Subterfuge.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


sub·​ter·​fuge ˈsəb-tər-ˌfyüj How to pronounce subterfuge (audio)
: the action of deceiving usually by slyness in order to avoid some unpleasant circumstance (as to escape blame)
: a plan or trick that employs sly deception

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