[ sahy-fer ]
See synonyms for: cipherciphering on

  1. any of the Arabic numerals or figures.

  1. Arabic numerical notation collectively.

  2. something of no value or importance.

  3. a person of no influence; nonentity.

  4. a secret method of writing, as by transposition or substitution of letters, specially formed symbols, or the like.: Compare cryptography.

  5. writing done by such a method; a coded message.

  6. the key to a secret method of writing.

  7. a combination of letters, as the initials of a name, in one design; monogram.

verb (used without object)
  1. to use figures or numerals arithmetically.

  2. to write in or as in cipher.

verb (used with object)
  1. to calculate numerically; figure.

  2. to convert into cipher.

Origin of cipher

1350–1400; Middle English siphre<Medieval Latin ciphra<Arabic ṣifr empty, zero; translation of Sanskrit śūnyā empty
  • Also especially British, cy·pher .

Other words from cipher

  • ci·pher·a·ble, adjective
  • ci·pher·er, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use cipher in a sentence

  • He told me of reading, of writing, and of ciphering, and taught me many facts of our world which are known to the learned.

    Indirection | Everett B. Cole
  • His acquirements were already far beyond the simple elements of reading, writing, and ciphering.

  • I had the Unabridged, and I was ciphering around in the back end, hoping I might tree her among the pictures.

    Alonzo Fitz and Other Stories | Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
  • He could read and write, it is true, but it was the ciphering under which he broke down, as a surveyor.

    The Chainbearer | J. Fenimore Cooper
  • I had the Unabridged; and I was ciphering around in the back end, hoping I might tree her among the pictures.

    Recitations for the Social Circle | James Clarence Harvey

British Dictionary definitions for cipher



/ (ˈsaɪfə) /

  1. a method of secret writing using substitution or transposition of letters according to a key

  2. a secret message

  1. the key to a secret message

  2. an obsolete name for zero (def. 1)

  3. any of the Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, etc, to 9) or the Arabic system of numbering as a whole

  4. a person or thing of no importance; nonentity

  5. a design consisting of interwoven letters; monogram

  6. music a defect in an organ resulting in the continuous sounding of a pipe, the key of which has not been depressed

  1. to put (a message) into secret writing

  2. (intr) (of an organ pipe) to sound without having the appropriate key depressed

  1. rare to perform (a calculation) arithmetically

Origin of cipher

C14: from Old French cifre zero, from Medieval Latin cifra, from Arabic sifr zero, empty

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012