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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
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • This tower bore armorial bearings, which I was trying to decipher, when Verney came up with Janet.

    Mentone, Cairo, and Corfu Constance Fenimore Woolson
  • Many others are so defaced that it is impossible to decipher them.

  • Let us read it out for the benefit of the company, who have not book-learning enough to decipher it for themselves.

    Sir Christopher Maud Wilder Goodwin
  • Of Greek I can decipher perhaps the greater part of the Greek alphabet.

  • He copied the message letter by letter, his understanding blanked by the effort to decipher it.

    First on the Moon Jeff Sutton
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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