View synonyms for enigma


[ uh-nig-muh ]


, plural e·nig·mas; Chiefly Archaic e·nig·ma·ta [uh, -, nig, -m, uh, -t, uh].
  1. a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation:

    His disappearance is an enigma that has given rise to much speculation.

    Synonyms: problem

  2. a person of puzzling or contradictory character:

    To me he has always been an enigma, one minute completely insensitive, the next moved to tears.

  3. a saying, question, picture, etc., containing a hidden meaning; riddle.
  4. (initial capital letter) a German-built enciphering machine developed for commercial use in the early 1920s and later adapted and appropriated by German and other Axis powers for military use through World War II.


/ ˌɛnɪɡˈmætɪk; ɪˈnɪɡmə /


  1. a person, thing, or situation that is mysterious, puzzling, or ambiguous

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Derived Forms

  • enigmatic, adjective
  • ˌenigˈmatically, adverb

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Word History and Origins

Origin of enigma1

First recorded in 1530–40; from Latin aenigma, from Greek aínigma, equivalent to ainik- (stem of ainíssesthai “to speak in riddles,” derivative of aînos fable) + -ma noun suffix of result

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Word History and Origins

Origin of enigma1

C16: from Latin aenigma, from Greek ainigma, from ainissesthai to speak in riddles, from ainos fable, story

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Synonym Study

See puzzle.

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Example Sentences

Despite being a significant portion and growing force on the internet for over a decade now Gen Z remains an enigma for many media companies and brands.

From Digiday

To Varki, glycans are still one of the greatest enigmas of the biological universe.

As a man, Malcolm X was an enigma, transforming himself multiple times in his short life.

Even as he ascends to the top of China’s billionaire class, Zhong remains an enigma.

From Fortune

Box has always been a bit of an enigma for Wall Street, and perhaps for enterprise software in general.

As great as this feat was, an equally demanding test followed: to conceal from the Nazis that Enigma had been beaten.

Madame Cézanne is ultimately about the figure in the portraits rather than the person, who remains a tantalizing enigma.

He was a paragon of masculinity—a tall, dark, and impossibly handsome enigma.

The name is "an enigma even to me," Taylor says -- an appropriately mysterious moniker to make spiritual music under.

Lil B is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a song about Ellen Degeneres.

To Lucy Warrender, who now heard of the matter for the first time, these initials were no enigma.

He tells me that La Fayette has fled; but when, where, or for what purpose, is all equally an enigma.

Aristide looked mournfully over the rain-swept common through the leaded panes, and speculated on the enigma of woman.

The Man in the Iron Mask is an enigma which each one attempts to solve.

“You tempt one to enquire the length of the reign of a satisfactory enigma,” cried Lady Engleton.


Related Words

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More About Enigma

What does enigma mean?

An enigma is someone or something that’s puzzling, mysterious, or difficult to make sense of.

The word enigma can also mean a riddle, but it’s more often used to refer to something that’s so perplexing that it seems like a riddle (and perhaps was intended to seem like one), as in That book is an enigma—I have no idea what it’s really about. 

If you call a person an enigma, you mean that they’re hard to figure out—the reasons behind what they say and do are not easily understood. Some people try to be enigmas to be mysterious.

The adjective enigmatic can be used to describe someone or something that’s puzzling or mysterious.

Example: I’ve known him for years, but he’s still a total enigma to me—I have no idea what his interests are or what he’s really like.

Where does enigma come from?

The first records of the word enigma come from the 1500s. It comes from the Greek ainíssesthai, meaning “to speak in riddles,” from ainos, meaning “fable” or “story.”

A much more specific use of the word is as the name of a ciphering machine used by the German military during World War II. A precursor to computer encryption, the Enigma machine was used to encode messages into a seemingly random string of letters to be decoded by another Enigma machine set up the same way. The deciphering of the Enigma code by Alan Turing and a team of codebreakers allowed the Allies to secretly read intercepted German messages and is thought to be a major factor in the Allied victory.

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What are some other forms related to enigma?

What are some synonyms for enigma?

What are some words that share a root or word element with enigma

What are some words that often get used in discussing enigma?

How is enigma used in real life?

When a situation or problem is called an enigma, it’s one that’s confusing or difficult to understand, like a riddle. When a person is called an enigma, it usually means that they’re hard to know.


Try using enigma!

Which of the following words is NOT a synonym of enigma?

A. cipher
B. answer
C. puzzle
D. riddle