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[dih-sahy-fer] /dɪˈsaɪ fər/
verb (used with object)
to make out the meaning of (poor or partially obliterated writing, etc.):
to decipher a hastily scribbled note.
to discover the meaning of (anything obscure or difficult to trace or understand):
to decipher hieroglyphics.
to interpret by the use of a key, as something written in cipher:
to decipher a secret message.
Obsolete. to depict; portray.
Origin of decipher
1520-30; translation of Middle French déchiffrer. See de-, cipher
Related forms
decipherable, adjective
decipherability, noun
decipherer, noun
decipherment, noun
undecipherable, adjective
undecipherably, adverb
undeciphered, adjective
2. comprehend, solve, unravel, explain. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for decipher
  • They are learning to decipher the hieroglyphics of their ancestors -- a vast legacy left on stone, bark paper, and ceramic.
  • Scientists are studying wild and captive dolphins to decipher their secret language.
  • Get some kid interested in those glyphs and he might even decipher the darn things.
  • Her colleagues at work no longer have to help her decipher her payslip.
  • The singer alternately shouts and mumbles, making it difficult to decipher more than a couple of words.
  • Retirement plan fees are often difficult to decipher, even for employers.
  • They're a huge media conglomerate: surely they have someone who can decipher budgetary memos.
  • It's a headache trying to decipher your typing "skillz".
  • Computer-analyzed magnetic resonance imaging was used to decipher the molecule's complicated structure.
  • Well, not everyone is expected to go charging off to the library to try to decipher the works of difficult writers.
British Dictionary definitions for decipher


verb (transitive)
to determine the meaning of (something obscure or illegible)
to convert from code into plain text; decode
Derived Forms
decipherable, adjective
decipherability, noun
decipherer, noun
decipherment, 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
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Word Origin and History for decipher

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

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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