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verb (used with object)
  1. to make out the meaning of (poor or partially obliterated writing, etc.): to decipher a hastily scribbled note.
  2. to discover the meaning of (anything obscure or difficult to trace or understand): to decipher hieroglyphics.
  3. to interpret by the use of a key, as something written in cipher: to decipher a secret message.
  4. Obsolete. to depict; portray.
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Origin of decipher

1520–30; translation of Middle French déchiffrer. See de-, cipher
Related formsde·ci·pher·a·ble, adjectivede·ci·pher·a·bil·i·ty, nounde·ci·pher·er, nounde·ci·pher·ment, nounun·de·ci·pher·a·ble, adjectiveun·de·ci·pher·a·bly, adverbun·de·ci·phered, adjective

Synonyms for decipher

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for decipherable

clear, comprehensible, explicable, interpretable, legible, readable, understandable

Examples from the Web for decipherable

Historical Examples of decipherable

  • Without a strong magnifying glass, not a word was decipherable.

    The Web of the Golden Spider

    Frederick Orin Bartlett

  • Her figure-head had been washed away and the name on her stern was not decipherable.

    Jack Harkaway in New York

    Bracebridge Hemyng

  • As before, these marks are only decipherable when the cards are held at a proper angle.

    Sharps and Flats

    John Nevil Maskelyne

  • In worn examples the row of five stamps is not decipherable.

  • Admirable, ineffaceable, because so essentially all decipherable, Vanderpool!

British Dictionary definitions for decipherable


verb (tr)
  1. to determine the meaning of (something obscure or illegible)
  2. to convert from code into plain text; decode
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Derived Formsdecipherable, adjectivedecipherability, noundecipherer, noundecipherment, noun
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

Word Origin and History for decipherable



1520s, from de- + cipher. Perhaps in part a loan-translation from Middle French déchiffrer. Related: Deciphered; deciphering.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper