[mis-tuh-ree, -tree]
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noun, plural mys·ter·ies.
  1. anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown: the mysteries of nature.
  2. any affair, thing, or person that presents features or qualities so obscure as to arouse curiosity or speculation: The masked guest is an absolute mystery to everyone.
  3. a novel, short story, play, or film whose plot involves a crime or other event that remains puzzlingly unsettled until the very end: a mystery by Agatha Christie.
  4. obscure, puzzling, or mysterious quality or character: the mystery of Mona Lisa's smile.
  5. any truth that is unknowable except by divine revelation.
  6. (in the Christian religion)
    1. a sacramental rite.
    2. the Eucharist.
  7. an incident or scene in connection with the life of Christ, regarded as of special significance: the mysteries of the Passion.
  8. any of the 15 events in the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary meditated upon during the recitation of the rosary.
  9. mysteries,
    1. ancient religions that admitted candidates by secret rites and rituals the meaning of which was known only to initiated worshipers.
    2. any rites or secrets known only to those initiated: the mysteries of Freemasonry.
    3. (in the Christian religion) the Eucharistic elements.
  10. mystery play.

Origin of mystery

1275–1325; Middle English mysterie < Latin mystērium < Greek mystḗrion, equivalent to mýs(tēs) (see mystic) + -tērion noun suffix

Synonyms for mystery

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noun, plural mys·ter·ies. Archaic.
  1. a craft or trade.
  2. a guild, as of merchants.

Origin of mystery

1325–75; Middle English mistery < Medieval Latin misterium, variant of Latin ministerium ministry Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for mystery


noun plural -teries
  1. an unexplained or inexplicable event, phenomenon, etc
  2. a person or thing that arouses curiosity or suspense because of an unknown, obscure, or enigmatic quality
  3. the state or quality of being obscure, inexplicable, or enigmatic
  4. a story, film, etc, which arouses suspense and curiosity because of facts concealed
  5. Christianity any truth that is divinely revealed but otherwise unknowable
  6. Christianity a sacramental rite, such as the Eucharist, or (when plural) the consecrated elements of the Eucharist
  7. (often plural) any of various rites of certain ancient Mediterranean religions
  8. short for mystery play

Word Origin for mystery

C14: via Latin from Greek mustērion secret rites. See mystic


noun plural -teries archaic
  1. a trade, occupation, or craft
  2. a guild of craftsmen

Word Origin for mystery

C14: from Medieval Latin mistērium, from Latin ministerium occupation, from minister official
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 mystery

early 14c., in a theological sense, "religious truth via divine revelation, hidden spiritual significance, mystical truth," from Anglo-French *misterie, Old French mistere "secret, mystery, hidden meaning" (Modern French mystère), from Latin mysterium "secret rite, secret worship; a secret thing," from Greek mysterion (usually in plural mysteria) "secret rite or doctrine," from mystes "one who has been initiated," from myein "to close, shut" (see mute (adj.)); perhaps referring to the lips (in secrecy) or to the eyes (only initiates were allowed to see the sacred rites).

The Greek word was used in Septuagint for "secret counsel of God," translated in Vulgate as sacramentum. Non-theological use in English, "a hidden or secret thing," is from late 14c. In reference to the ancient rites of Greece, Egypt, etc. it is attested from 1640s. Meaning "detective story" first recorded in English 1908.


"handicraft, trade, art" (archaic), late 14c., from Medieval Latin misterium, alteration of Latin ministerium "service, occupation, office, ministry" (see ministry), influenced in form by Medieval Latin mysterium (see mystery (n.1)) and in sense by maistrie "mastery." Now only in mystery play, in reference to the medieval performances, which often were staged by members of craft guilds. The two senses of mystery formed a common pun in (secular) Tudor theater.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper