cipher

[sahy-fer]
noun
1.
2.
any of the Arabic numerals or figures.
3.
Arabic numerical notation collectively.
4.
something of no value or importance.
5.
a person of no influence; nonentity.
6.
a secret method of writing, as by transposition or substitution of letters, specially formed symbols, or the like. Compare cryptography.
7.
writing done by such a method; a coded message.
8.
the key to a secret method of writing.
9.
a combination of letters, as the initials of a name, in one design; monogram.
verb (used without object)
10.
to use figures or numerals arithmetically.
11.
to write in or as in cipher.
verb (used with object)
12.
to calculate numerically; figure.
13.
to convert into cipher.
Also, especially British, cypher.


Origin:
1350–1400; Middle English siphre < Medieval Latin ciphra < Arabic ṣifr empty, zero; translation of Sanskrit śūnyā empty

cipherable, adjective
cipherer, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
cipher or cypher (ˈsaɪfə)
 
n
1.  a method of secret writing using substitution or transposition of letters according to a key
2.  a secret message
3.  the key to a secret message
4.  an obsolete name for zero
5.  any of the Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, etc, to 9) or the Arabic system of numbering as a whole
6.  a person or thing of no importance; nonentity
7.  a design consisting of interwoven letters; monogram
8.  music a defect in an organ resulting in the continuous sounding of a pipe, the key of which has not been depressed
 
vb
9.  to put (a message) into secret writing
10.  (intr) (of an organ pipe) to sound without having the appropriate key depressed
11.  rare to perform (a calculation) arithmetically
 
[C14: from Old French cifre zero, from Medieval Latin cifra, from Arabic sifr zero, empty]
 
cypher or cypher
 
n
 
vb
 
[C14: from Old French cifre zero, from Medieval Latin cifra, from Arabic sifr zero, empty]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Etymonline
Word Origin & History

cipher
1399, from M.L. cifra, from Arabic sifr "zero," lit. "empty, nothing," from safara "to be empty," loan-transl. of Skt. sunya-s "empty." Came to Europe with Arabic numerals. Original meaning "zero," then "any numeral," then (first in Fr. and It.) "coded message" (first attested in Eng. 1528), since early
codes often substituted numbers for letters. The verb meaning "to do arithmetic (with Arabic numerals) first attested 1530.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Britannica
Encyclopedia

cipher

any method of transforming a message to conceal its meaning. The term is also used synonymously with ciphertext or cryptogram in reference to the encrypted form of the message. A brief treatment of ciphers follows. For full treatment, see cryptology.

Learn more about cipher with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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Example sentences
The failure of the code-breaking attempts has raised the suspicion that there
  may not be any cipher to crack.
But his absence from public discourse makes him a cipher.
He had a secret cipher of his own, though, a dove with an olive branch.
Some tiles need to be rotated in order to get the correct orientation to solve
  the cipher.
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