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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.
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. 2014.
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Examples from the web for deciphering
  • Although the handwriting may require some deciphering, ink on paper remains legible for centuries.
  • As if finding that text weren't difficult enough, deciphering it could prove even tougher.
  • With a little deciphering, though, you can work out what it says.
  • deciphering strange words by context or phonetics is the bane of dyslexics, new readers, and non-native speakers alike.
  • deciphering the complex workings of airfare pricing can be a complicated, laborious process.
  • deciphering menus in a foreign land can be puzzling, even for the well-traveled.
  • The main problem here is deciphering between the noise, activity and actual influence.
  • Computers have great trouble deciphering voices that are speaking simultaneously.
  • The trick is deciphering which blood vessels are normal and which are not.
  • The first crucial step is deciphering their whereabouts.
British Dictionary definitions for deciphering


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 deciphering



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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