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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.
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. 2014.
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Examples from the web for enigma
  • But what, exactly, is unclear-a mystery batter-dipped in an enigma.
  • This game is indeed an enigma at times.
  • The world is an enormous enigma that science is solving gradually.
  • The brain is still an enigma.
  • Photo detective work could solve an enigma nearly nine decades old.
  • Beware the brooding enigma who suddenly shows up smiling.
  • He is a fascinating enigma on the printed page.
  • So far, in terms of policy, he has been something of an enigma.
  • Talk about an enigma wrapped in a riddle.
  • To be more specific, when one first meets the heroine she does not even have a name, and her past is a total 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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