Printable Version
Pronunciation: krip-tik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. (Timeworn) Like a crypt; otherwise related to crypts, as 'a cryptic room'. 2. Secret, enigmatic, mysterious, requiring a code or cipher, as 'a cryptic smile'. 3. Exceptionally brief, curt, short, as 'a cryptic response' 4. Concealed, camouflaged, as 'a cryptic nesting site' or 'cryptic colorings of an animal'.

Notes: Here is a word whose meaning has strayed far away from the original. It comes from the noun crypt, a small dark room, usually locked, hence requiring a key. Cryptic may be extended to cryptical, but it must be extended before transforming it into an adverb, cryptically. The quality noun is crypticity.

In Play: The second sense above is one of the most often encountered: "Finn and Hattie Frye belong to a cryptic underground revolutionary brigade." Meaning three above is another sense in which we often encounter this word: "When Phil Anders asked June McBride for her hand in marriage, her reply was a cryptic, 'Maybe.'"

Word History: Today's Good Word is a reduction of Latin crypticus "concealed, hidden", borrowed from Greek kryptikos "obscuring, concealing", an adjective based on kryptos "hidden". Greek inherited its word from PIE ghrebh-/ghrobh- "to dig, scratch", source also of German Grab "grave". Russian grob "coffin" and greben' "comb", English grave, Icelandic grafa "to dig", and Albanian gropë "hollow, cavity, hole". The semantic drift of this word over the past 3000 years seems to have been "scratch" > "dig" > "hole" > "grave" > "crypt" > "mysterious, secret". (Let's not be cryptic in our expression of gratitude to Wordmaster Rob Towart for suggesting today's mysterious Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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