September 06, 2012
decipher (verb)
\dee-SYE-fer\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
1 : to convert into understandable form; especially : decode2 : to make out the meaning of despite lack of clearness
How do you use it?
"It might also help if Meg's handwriting were legible," Mrs. Murry said. "With a good deal of difficulty I can usually decipher it, but I doubt very much if her teachers can, or are willing to take the time." (Madeleine L'Engle, _A Wrinkle in Time_)
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What language do you think "decipher" comes from?

Many words relating to the field of mathematics are Arabic in origin, including the word "decipher." English speakers formed "decipher" from the noun "cipher," which traces to the Arabic word "sifr" meaning "empty, zero." The earliest use of English "cipher" was to refer to the symbol "0" for zero. Later, people began using "cipher" to mean "a method of changing a message so as to conceal its meaning." The verb "cipher," meaning "to change a message to conceal its meaning," developed from the noun. People then added the prefix "de-" meaning "do the opposite of" to "cipher" to form "decipher."
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