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Alternative forms[edit]


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



cipher (plural ciphers)

  1. A numeric character.
  2. Any text character.
    • (Can we date this quote by Sir Walter Raleigh and provide title, author’s full name, and other details?)
      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.
    • (Can we date this quote by Bishop Burnet and provide title, author’s full name, and other details?)
      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.
    • (Can we date this quote by Washington Irving and provide title, author’s full name, and other details?)
      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, see also Thesaurus: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. (intransitive, 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.
    • published 1890, Emily Dickinson
      So I must baffle at the hint/ And cipher at the sign,/ And make much blunder, if at last/I take the clew divine.
    • 1979, Octavia Butler, Kindred:
      Can you cipher too—along with your reading and writing?
  2. (intransitive) To write in code or cipher.
  3. (intransitive, music) Of an organ pipe: to sound independent of the organ.
  4. (obsolete) To decipher.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Shakespeare to this entry?)


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