AskDefine | Define secret

Dictionary Definition

secret adj
1 not open or public; kept private or not revealed; "a secret formula"; "secret ingredients"; "secret talks"
2 conducted with or marked by hidden aims or methods; "clandestine intelligence operations"; "cloak-and-dagger activities behind enemy lines"; "hole-and-corner intrigue"; "secret missions"; "a secret agent"; "secret sales of arms"; "surreptitious mobilization of troops"; "an undercover investigation"; "underground resistance" [syn: clandestine, cloak-and-dagger, hole-and-corner(a), hugger-mugger, hush-hush, on the quiet(p), surreptitious, undercover, underground]
3 not openly made known; "a secret marriage"; "a secret bride" [syn: unavowed]
4 communicated covertly; "their a secret signal was a wink"; "secret messages"
5 not expressed; "secret (or private) thoughts" [syn: private]
6 designed to elude detection; "a hidden room or place of concealment such as a priest hole"; "a secret passage"; "the secret compartment in the desk" [syn: hidden]
7 hidden from general view or use; "a privy place to rest and think"; "a secluded romantic spot"; "a secret garden" [syn: privy, secluded]
8 (of information) given in confidence or in secret; "closet information"; "this arrangement must be kept confidential"; "their secret communications" [syn: closet(a), confidential]
9 indulging only covertly; "a closet alcoholic"; "closet liberals" [syn: closet(a)]
10 having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence; beyond ordinary understanding; "mysterious symbols"; "the mystical style of Blake"; "occult lore"; "the secret learning of the ancients" [syn: mysterious, mystic, mystical, occult, orphic]
11 the next to highest level of official classification for documents


1 something that should remain hidden from others (especially information that is not to be passed on); "the combination to the safe was a secret"; "he tried to keep his drinking a secret"
2 information known only to a special group; "the secret of Cajun cooking" [syn: arcanum]
3 something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained; "how it got out is a mystery"; "it remains one of nature's secrets" [syn: mystery, enigma, closed book]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /ˈsiːkɹət/
  • Hyphenation: se·cret

Etymology 1

From Latin secretum


  1. being or kept hidden.
    We went down a secret passage.
being or kept hidden.


  1. Knowledge that is hidden and intended to be kept hidden.
    Can you keep a secret? So can I.
knowledge that is hidden
  • Arabic: (sirr)
  • Bulgarian: тайна (tajna)
  • Chinese: 秘密 (mìmì)
  • Czech: tajemství
  • Dutch: geheim
  • Estonian: saladus
  • Finnish: salaisuus
  • French: secret
  • German: Geheimnis
  • Greek: μυστικό
  • Hebrew: סוד (sod)
  • Hungarian: titok
  • Interlingua: secreto
  • Italian: segreto
  • Japanese: 秘密 (ひみつ, himitsu)
  • Korean: 비밀 (bimil)
  • Old English: run
  • Persian: (raaz)
  • Polish: sekret, tajemnica
  • Portuguese: segredo
  • Romanian: secret, taină
  • Russian: тайна
  • Scottish Gaelic: rùn
  • Slovene: skrivnost
  • Spanish: secreto
  • Swedish: hemlighet
  • Telugu: రహస్యం (rahasyaM)
  • Volapük: klän
  • Welsh: cyfrinach

Etymology 2

reading secreted as secret + -ed instead of secrete + -ed by influence of the above senses of secret.


  • /ˈsikrət/


  1. To secrete (to hide away).

Usage notes

This word is not in standard or formal usage, where secrete is used instead.




  1. secret


fr-noun m

Extensive Definition

Secrecy or furtiveness is the practice of sharing information among a group of people, which can be as small as one person, while hiding it from others. That which is kept hidden is known as the secret. Secrecy is often controversial. Many people claim that, at least in some situations, it is better for everyone if everyone knows all the facts—there should be no secrets. The closely allied, perhaps even synonymous notions of confidentiality and privacy are often considered virtues. Although this belief is held by many people, most argue that it is taken out of context. William Penn wrote, "It is wise not to seek a secret; and honest, not to reveal one."

Natural and sociological secrecy

Secrecy is built into biology. One reason for sexual reproduction and speciation may be to allow members of a species to share genetic improvements without those improvements becoming available to competitors. Animals, including humans (in some cases), conceal the location of their den or nest from predators. Humans attempt to consciously conceal aspects of themselves from others due to shame, or from fear of rejection, loss of acceptance, or loss of employment. On a deeper level, humans attempt to conceal aspects of their own self which they are not capable of incorporating psychologically into their conscious being. Families sometimes maintain "family secrets", obliging family members never discuss disagreeable issues concerning the family, either with those outside the family and sometimes even within the family. Many "family secrets" are maintained by using a mutually agreed-upon construct (an official family story) when speaking with outside members. Agreement to maintain the secret is often coerced through "shaming" and reference to family honor. The information may even be something as trivial as a recipe.
Keeping one's strategy secret is important in many aspects of game theory.

Government secrecy

Governments often attempt to conceal information from other governments and the public. These state secrets can include weapon designs, military plans, diplomatic negotiation tactics, and secrets obtained illicitly from others ("intelligence"). Most nations have some form of Official Secrets Act (the Espionage Act in the U.S.) and classify material according to the level of protection needed (hence the term "classified information"). An individual needs a security clearance for access and other protection methods, such as keeping documents in a safe, are stipulated.
Few people dispute the desirability of keeping Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Information secret, but many believe government secrecy to be excessive and too often employed for political purposes. Many countries have laws that attempt to limit government secrecy, such as the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and sunshine laws. Government officials sometimes leak information they are supposed to keep secret. (For a recent (2005) example, see Plame affair.)
Secrecy in elections is a growing issue, particularly secrecy of vote counts on computerized vote counting machines. While voting, citizens are acting in a unique sovereign or "owner" capacity (instead of being a subject of the laws, as is true outside of elections) in selecting their government servants. It is argued that secrecy is impermissible as against the public in the area of elections where the government gets all of its power and taxing authority. In any event, permissible secrecy varies significantly with the context involved.

Corporate security

Organizations, ranging from multi-national for profit corporations to nonprofit charities, keep secrets for competitive advantage, to meet legal requirements, or, in some cases, to conceal nefarious behavior. New products under development, unique manufacturing techniques, or simply lists of customers are types of information protected by trade secret laws. The patent system encourages inventors to publish information in exchange for a limited time monopoly on its use, though patent applications are initially secret. Secret societies use secrecy as a way to attract members by creating a sense of importance.
Other laws require organizations to keep certain information secret, such as medical records (HIPAA in the U.S.), or financial reports that are under preparation (to limit insider trading). Europe has particularly strict laws about database privacy.
In many countries, neoliberal reforms of government have included expanding the outsourcing of government tasks and functions to private businesses with the aim of improving efficiency and effectiveness in government administration. However, among the criticisms of these reforms is the claim that the pervasive use of "Commercial-in-confidence" (or secrecy) clauses in contracts between government and private providers further limits public accountability of governments and prevents proper public scrutiny of the performance and probity of the private companies. Concerns have been raised that 'commercial-in-confidence' is open to abuse because it can be deliberately used to hide corporate or government maladministration and even corruption. A string of publicly scandalous revelations about poor, wasteful or corrupt management of government-funded private contracts left unchecked for lengthy periods, often in prison management, has added credence to the views of skeptics about the prudency of the neoliberal reforms themselves.

Technology secrecy

Preservation of secrets is one of the goals of information security. Techniques used include physical security and cryptography. The latter depends on the secrecy of cryptographic keys. Secrecy is central to organized crime. Many believe that security technology can be more effective if it itself is not kept secret.
Information hiding is a design principle in much software engineering. It is considered easier to verify software reliability if one can be sure that different parts of the program only have access to certain information.

Hazards of secrecy

Excessive secrecy is often cited as a source of much human conflict. One may have to lie in order to hold a secret, which might lead to psychological repercussions. The alternative, declining to answer when asked something, may suggest the answer and may therefore not always be suitable for keeping a secret. Also, the other may insist that one answers the question. Nearly 2500 years ago, Sophocles wrote, "Do nothing secretly; for Time sees and hears all things, and discloses all." Around the same time, Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, once said "Three things cannot long stay hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth".

Military secrecy

A military secret is secret information that is purposely not made available to the general public and hence to any enemy, by the military in order to gain an advantage or to not reveal a weakness, avoid embarrassment or to help in propaganda efforts.
Most military secrets are military in nature, such as the strengths and weaknesses of weapons systems, tactics, training methods, number and location of specific weapons and plans.
Some involve information in broader areas, such as secure communications, cryptography, intelligence operations and cooperation with third-parties.


  • Sissela Bok, Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation (New York : Vintage Books, 1989).
  • Bruce Schneier, Secrets and Lies (Schneier)
  • On Secrecy, by Sir Henry Taylor in The Oxford Book of Essays, John J. Gross, Oxford University Press, 1991 ISBN 0-19-214185-6
  • Alasdair Roberts, Blacked Out: Government Secrecy in the Information Age (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
  • Secrecy legal news and research, JURIST
The Federal Information Manual. P. Stephen Gidiere III. American Bar Association (2006)href="">
secret in Danish: Covert
secret in German: Geheimnis
secret in Spanish: Secreto
secret in French: Secret
secret in Indonesian: Kerahasiaan
secret in Hungarian: Titok
secret in Dutch: Geheim
secret in Japanese: 秘密
secret in Norwegian: Hemmelighold
secret in Polish: Tajemnica
secret in Portuguese: Secreto
secret in Simple English: Secret
secret in Swedish: Hemlighet
secret in Vietnamese: Bí mật
secret in Chinese: 保密性

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abstract, abstruse, arcane, arcanum, beclouded, behind the curtain, behind the scenes, blind, buried, by stealth, cabala, cabalistic, camouflaged, censored, clandestine, classified, classified information, close, closed, closemouthed, clouded, concealed, confidence, confidential, confidential communication, confidentially, covered, covert, cryptic, cryptographic, dark, deep, deep-seated, devious, discreet, disguised, eclipsed, encrypted, enigma, enigmatic, esoteric, esoterica, evasive, furtive, furtively, genitals, guarded secret, heavy, hermetic, hermetics, hid, hidden, hole-and-corner, hugger-mugger, hush-hush, immanent, imperceptible, implanted, implicit, in a cloud, in a fog, in eclipse, in purdah, in secret, in the wings, inalienable, incommunicado, incomprehensible, indiscernible, indwelling, infixed, ingrained, inherent, inner, insensible, internal, intrinsic, invisible, inward, inwrought, irreducible, latent, lonesome, mysterious, mystery, mystery of mysteries, mystical, obfuscated, obscure, obscured, occult, on the sly, out of sight, out-of-the-way, parts, personal matter, private, private matter, private parts, privately, privates, privileged communication, privity, privy, privy parts, profound, profound secret, pudenda, quiet, quietly, recondite, remote, removed, resident, restricted, restricted information, retired, screened, sealed book, secluded, secluse, secretive, secretly, sequestered, shifty, shrouded, sightless, smothered, sneak, stealthily, stealthy, stifled, subjective, submerged, suppressed, surreptitious, surreptitiously, the occult, top secret, top-secret, transcendental, ulterior, unacknowledged, unalienable, unapparent, unbeheld, unbeholdable, unbreatheable, unchallengeable, uncommunicative, undeclared, under an eclipse, under cover, under house arrest, under security, under wraps, under-the-table, undercover, underground, underhand, underhanded, underneath, undiscernible, undisclosable, undisclosed, undivulgable, undivulged, unknown, unnoticed, unobserved, unperceivable, unperceived, unpublishable, unpublished, unquestionable, unrealized, unrevealable, unrevealed, unseeable, unseen, unspoken, untellable, untold, unutterable, unuttered, unviewed, unwhisperable, unwitnessed, viewless, wrapped in clouds
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