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Alternative forms[edit]


As decypher, but not retaining the y from the Old French etyma of cipher (cyfre, cyffre); the i spelling tends to be preferred etymologically, being consistent with its cognates, the French déchiffrer and the Italian decifrare, and with their common ancestor, the Medieval Latin cifra, cifera, ciphra.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /dɪˈsaɪfə(ɹ)/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -aɪfə(ɹ)


decipher (third-person singular simple present deciphers, present participle deciphering, simple past and past participle deciphered)

  1. (transitive) To decode or decrypt a code or cipher to plain text.
  2. (transitive) To read text that is almost illegible or obscure
  3. (transitive) To make sense of a complex situation.
    • 1834, L[etitia] E[lizabeth] L[andon], chapter II, in Francesca Carrara. [], volume II, London: Richard Bentley, [], (successor to Henry Colburn), →OCLC, page 13:
      Truly, we need human infirmity to teach us human nature, and that to Louis had been as a sealed book; he had only seen the coloured and gilded outside: too late he had to decipher the rough and gloomy page within.
  4. (transitive) To find a solution to a problem.

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decipher (plural deciphers)

  1. A decipherment; a decoding.
    • 1837, Arthur Wellesley Duke of Wellington, John Gurwood, The Dispatches of Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington, K.G.:
      I enclose a letter which I received yesterday evening from the Marques de Monsalud, containing the decipher of a letter from the King to the Comte d'Erlon. I wish that the Marques had sent the ciphered letter here []