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[uh-nig-muh] /əˈnɪg mə/
noun, plural enigmas; Chiefly Archaic, enigmata
[uh-nig-muh-tuh] /əˈnɪg mə tə/ (Show IPA)
a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation:
His disappearance is an enigma that has given rise to much speculation.
a person of puzzling or contradictory character:
To me he has always been an enigma, one minute completely insensitive, the next moved to tears.
a saying, question, picture, etc., containing a hidden meaning; riddle.
(initial capital letter) a German-built enciphering machine developed for commercial use in the early 1920s and later adapted and appropriated by German and other Axis powers for military use through World War II.
Origin of enigma
1530-40; < Latin aenigma < Greek aínigma, equivalent to ainik- (stem of ainíssesthai to speak in riddles, derivative of aînos fable) + -ma noun suffix of result
1. problem. See puzzle. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for enigma
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • But which was the “she” he meant, was an enigma known only to himself.

    Not Like Other Girls Rosa N. Carey
  • "Troilus and Cressida" has always been regarded as a sort of enigma.

    The Man Shakespeare Frank Harris
  • After you explain the enigma which I have struggled against ever since I knew you.

    Balsamo, The Magician Alexander Dumas
  • As for Jane Temple's view of this business, that remained an enigma.

  • His puzzled mind went groping for some reasonable solution of the enigma.

British Dictionary definitions for enigma


a person, thing, or situation that is mysterious, puzzling, or ambiguous
Derived Forms
enigmatic (ˌɛnɪɡˈmætɪk), enigmatical, adjective
enigmatically, adverb
Word Origin
C16: from Latin aenigma, from Greek ainigma, from ainissesthai to speak in riddles, from ainos fable, story
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 enigma

1580s, earlier enigmate (mid-15c.), from Latin aenigma "riddle," from Greek ainigma (plural ainigmata), from ainissesthai "speak obscurely, speak in riddles," from ainos "fable, riddle," of unknown origin.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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enigma in Technology

hardware, cryptography
The electro-mechanical cipher engine used by the Germans in World War II. Many of their messages were deciphered at Bletchley Park, by Alan Turing and others.

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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