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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 decipherable
Historical Examples
  • Now, the Eton book has in it a whole series of names of owners, some erased, but decipherable.

  • Her figure-head had been washed away and the name on her stern was not decipherable.

    Jack Harkaway in New York Bracebridge Hemyng
  • Moist as it was, when unrolled it lay flat, and the writing on the inner side was decipherable without difficulty.

  • As before, these marks are only decipherable when the cards are held at a proper angle.

    Sharps and Flats John Nevil Maskelyne
  • The decipherable words 'morning light' and 'offerings' point to this having been a sacred stone when sun worship was prevalent.

    Southern Arabia Theodore Bent
  • In worn examples the row of five stamps is not decipherable.

  • My eyes were riveted on the doctor's face, and only to one who knew him well could the expression be at all decipherable.

    A Girl Among the Anarchists Isabel Meredith
  • Admirable, ineffaceable, because so essentially all decipherable, Vanderpool!

  • All her cards are on the table, decipherable at the first glance.

  • The autograph was not very plain, it is true, but it was decipherable and the mistake was due to her own bad reading.

    A Fortnight of Folly Maurice Thompson
British Dictionary definitions for decipherable


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 decipherable



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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