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Alternative forms[edit]

  • cypher, less common than cipher but still in use in English. see The Ultra Secret by Winterbotham, the cypherpunk movement, Strider weapon, and consider the Royal Navy's series of Cyphers (Nr 1, Nr 2, Nr 3, ...) before and into WWII.


14th century. From Old French cyfre, cyffre (French chiffre), ultimately from Arabic صِفْر (ṣifr, zero, empty), from صَفَرَ (ṣafara, to be empty). Compare zero. Sense 9 may be a different word.[1]



cipher (plural ciphers)

  1. A numeric character.
  2. Any text character.
    • Sir Walter Raleigh
      This wisdom began to be written in ciphers and characters and letters bearing the forms of creatures.
  3. A combination or interweaving of letters, as the initials of a name; a device; a monogram.
    a painter's cipher, an engraver's cipher, etc.
  4. A method of transforming a text in order to conceal its meaning.
    The message was written in a simple cipher. Anyone could figure it out.
    • Bishop Burnet
      His father [] engaged him when he was very young to write all his letters to England in cipher.
  5. (cryptography) A cryptographic system using an algorithm that converts letters or sequences of bits into ciphertext.
  6. Ciphertext; a message concealed via a cipher.
    The message is clearly a cipher, but I can't figure it out.
  7. A grouping of three digits in a number, especially when delimited by commas or periods:
    The probability is 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000 — a number having five ciphers of zeros.
  8. (music) A fault in an organ valve which causes a pipe to sound continuously without the key having been pressed.
  9. A hip-hop jam session.[2]
  10. The path (usually circular) shared cannabis takes through a group, an occasion of cannabis smoking.
  11. Someone or something of no importance.
    • Washington Irving
      Here he was a mere cipher.
  12. (dated) Zero.


  • (numeric character): number, numeral
  • (method for concealing the meaning of text): code
  • (cryptographic system using an algorithm):
  • (ciphertext):
  • (a grouping of three digits in a number, especially when delimited):
  • (design of interlacing initials): monogram
  • (fault in an organ valve causing a pipe to sound continuously):
  • (hip-hop jam session):
  • (path that shared cannabis takes through a group):
  • (someone or something of no importance): (person): nobody, nonentity; (thing) nonentity, nothing, nullity
  • (obsolete: zero): naught/nought, nothing, oh, zero

Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



cipher (third-person singular simple present ciphers, present participle ciphering, simple past and past participle ciphered)

  1. (regional, dated) To calculate.
    I never learned much more than how to read and cipher.
    • 1843, Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present, book 2, ch. IX, Abbot Samson
      For the mischief that one blockhead, that every blockhead does, in a world so feracious, teeming with endless results as ours, no ciphering will sum up.


  1. ^ Cipher. (n.d.). In the New Oxford American Dictionary.
  2. ^ Rap Dictionary. Retrieved 30 November 2005.