Definition of decipher in US English:



[with object]
  • 1Convert (a text written in code, or a coded signal) into normal language.

    ‘enable the government to decipher coded computer transmissions’
    • ‘Numerous books and television documentaries have chronicled the remarkable work of the team who deciphered the Nazi's Enigma machine.’
    • ‘Just as with any other type of cipher, as long as the recipient knows the key, the process of deciphering an Enigma encrypted message is incredibly simple.’
    • ‘The censor deciphered most of these codes fairly easily, although some of the more subtle ones may have eluded him.’
    • ‘A code was typed in and it automatically deciphered itself, forming into a simple set of commands.’
    • ‘Still, Pepys' shorthand was not deciphered until 1819 by an undergraduate who did not know that in the library Pepys had also left Magdalene was the shorthand primer on which the cipher was based.’
    • ‘Using actual paintings like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, Brown deciphers hidden codes tucked away inside these great art works by Da Vinci himself.’
    • ‘The content of the info sent is encrypted and couldn't be deciphered as far as I know.’
    • ‘He had to decipher more than ten lines of code before entering the right password.’
    • ‘The catch is that anyone intercepting the key then could decipher all your messages.’
    • ‘Also, judging by the final sentence, it would appear that my amateur attempt at cryptography has been easily deciphered, not that I am overly surprised by that fact…’
    • ‘The relatively simple code used by Mary was quickly deciphered, and translations were provided for Elizabeth.’
    • ‘After wireless transmission by Morse code the enciphered message would be typed by the receiver onto an Enigma machine having the same ground setting, the key setting entered, and the text deciphered automatically.’
    • ‘"Miguel, can you decipher this code for us? " asked Grace.’
    • ‘The harbour became so bright none of the signal codes could be deciphered.’
    • ‘Three-fourths of the message has already been deciphered, but the remaining fourth has apparently been coded in an entirely different way.’
    • ‘I had to decipher the code so that I could make a counter formula.’
    • ‘It was intercepted and deciphered by Room 40, a predecessor of GCHQ, the Government's top secret listening post, in January 1917.’
    • ‘This was a key, just as Egyptian hieroglyphics could be deciphered only when the bilingual Rosetta Stone was found.’
    • ‘The code was just being deciphered back then so they did not know what this could mean.’
    • ‘It only became public knowledge when MAGIC intelligence decrypts, including a signal from the Japanese attaché in Berlin which was not deciphered until after the war, were declassified in the USA in 1980.’
    decode, decrypt, break, work out, solve, interpret, translate, construe, explain
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Succeed in understanding, interpreting, or identifying (something)
      ‘an expression she could not decipher came and went upon his face’
      • ‘Be prepared to spend some time deciphering the menu, which consists of at least forty confusing photos of fruits and nuts in various stages of preparation.’
      • ‘On numerous occasions, I simply could not decipher what the actors were saying.’
      • ‘Have you ever tried deciphering a doctor's prescription that looks like some sort of secret code out of World War II?’
      • ‘Just as the human genome project succeeded in deciphering the code in human DNA, scientists now believe we must seek to identify the components of the very life base of the planet.’
      • ‘A child who reads with expression is grasping the larger meaning, while a child who reads in a monotone is putting all his effort into deciphering the individual words and may be missing the story.’
      • ‘Now her great-great nephew, Alan Douglas, has deciphered Lucy's spidery handwriting and, as a labour of love, produced eight copies of the diary.’
      • ‘Whatever actually occurred, the Court is now faced with the daunting task of deciphering their submissions.’
      • ‘I wrote these words in the dark and it was often a struggle to decipher the scrawl which resulted.’
      • ‘Spend a couple of hours in the Auld Kirk graveyard deciphering each gravestone, building up a picture of local people's lives.’
      • ‘New research from makes deciphering the Scottish property market no easier.’
      • ‘Such success might seem strange, given that few people outside of ivory towers have even heard of Foucault, but Duncker's novel isn't some dry academic text that needs to be painstakingly deciphered.’
      • ‘He stared at her, trying to decipher the meaning behind her words.’
      • ‘"It took me a week to decipher his handwriting, " Kilpatrick says.’
      • ‘Two viewings suggest that deciphering the complex, ambiguous plot may not be worth the effort.’
      • ‘Those deciphering the symbolic meaning behind the painting say it has cast a new light on the life of Burlington.’
      • ‘They are able to decipher much of the language spoken to them, but they do not speak it.’
      • ‘The good news is that those with a talent for solving puzzles and deciphering cryptic clues will be in with a chance to win a cash prize and, of course, enjoy plenty of fun and good-humoured banter along the way.’
      • ‘When we assemble a new desk or barbecue grill, she deciphers the directions, I do the actual putting together.’
      • ‘As usual, we put together a panel of market mavens who can decipher today's investment climate.’
      • ‘To go back further will require a few excursions as she delves into parish records, consults family histories and roots around in graveyards deciphering inscriptions on headstones for further clues.’
      make out, discern, perceive, see, read, follow, fathom, penetrate, make sense of, interpret, understand, comprehend, apprehend, grasp
      View synonyms


Early 16th century: from de- (expressing reversal) + cipher, on the pattern of French déchiffrer.