The Meaning of Subterfuge: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what the word subterfuge means? This article will provide you with all of the knowledge you need on the word subterfuge, including its definition, usage, synonyms, sentence examples and more!

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What does the word subterfuge mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary, Dictionary, and other dictionary apps, the word subterfuge is a noun that means some deception or deceptive device that is used to conceal, escape, or evade something. This artifice of expedient is used to hide something, usually to avoid consequences. A subterfuge can be used to mean a great many different forms of deception, from an email virus masquerading as winning the lottery, or wearing a fake wedding ring to not get hit on at a bar.

A subterfuge is usually a misrepresentation of the true nature of an activity. A good example of this could be in the horror film Carrie. According to IMDb, the film Carrie came out in 1976 and stars Sissy Spacek as the titular role. The film is about a shy teenage girl named Carrie White who discovers she has telekinetic powers and unleashes them on the school and her domineering mother.  In the film, the bullies trick Carrie into thinking she has been elected prom queen so that they can get her on stage to pour pig’s blood on her. This is considered subterfuge.

The word subterfuge is also present in many different languages around the world. Translations of the word subterfuge into various different languages are below, from Word Sense.

  • Finnish: harhautus‎, ansa‎
  • German: Täuschung‎ (fem.), Trick‎ (masc.)
  • Portuguese: subterfúgio
  • Greek: τέχνασμα‎ (neut.), υπεκφυγή‎ (fem.)
  • Spanish: subterfugio
  • Maori: nuka‎
  • Russian: уло́вка‎ (fem.), ухищре́ние‎ (neut.)

What is the etymology of the word subterfuge?

According to Etymonline, the word subterfuge was invented in the 1570s. This late 16th century word comes from the Old French suterfuge, which came to be in the 14th century. Alternatively, it may have come directly from the Late Latin subterfugium, meaning some evasion. The word subterfugium comes from the Latin subterfugere, which is a verb that means to evade, escape, or flee. This word comes from subter, meaning beneath or below. The roots of the word subterfuge are the prefix sub-, which means below or beneath, and fugere, which means flee. We also get the word fugitive from the word fugere.

How can the word subterfuge be used in a sentence?

The word subterfuge can be used in numerous different contexts and settings to refer to some trick or deception used in order to conceal or escape something. In this first example, Rita and Jon are coworkers. Rita is having trouble trying to log in to her email account.

Rita: I don’t know what happened! I could log in fine yesterday. I didn’t change my password or anything, and now it’s saying I can’t log in at all.

Jon: Strange. Did you click on any emails that may have seemed out of the ordinary yesterday?

Rita: I don’t think so, everything seemed normal… uh oh.

Jon: What’s uh oh?

Rita: Uh oh I may have accidentally clicked on a spam email. By accident. Accidentally.

Jon: What did the email say?

Rita: It was advertising… a free stay at a singles resort. I was just curious!

Jon: Yeah, they definitely performed some subterfuge with that one. It’s probably a virus.  I’ll get you a temporary laptop to use while I fix this. 

Rita: Thanks Jon!

Here, Jon uses the word subterfuge to describe how the email tricked Rita into clicking on it, and then giving her computer a virus. In this next example, Jon and Rita talk about their dating life over lunch.

Jon: So, singles resort, huh?

Rita: Oh, shut up. Yes, okay! I was looking into a singles resort! Every guy I’ve dated over the past couple years has been so full of subterfuge and lies, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was desperate and thought it could be a good time.

Jon: It does sound like a good time, but you have no need to be desperate, Rita. There are a ton of guys that would kill to be able to take you out. And ones that aren’t so full of subterfuge.

Rita: Do you really mean that?

Jon: Yes, I really do. 

Rita uses the word subterfuge to describe the deceitful men she dated.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word subterfuge?

There are a plethora of words that one can use in place of the word subterfuge; these are considered synonyms. A synonym is a word or phrase that has the same definition as a given word or phrase. This list of synonyms is provided by Thesaurus.

  • fraud
  • ploy
  • excuse
  • sophistry
  • cheat
  • trick
  • shift
  • chicanery
  • cheating
  • dishonesty
  • trickery
  • wile
  • pretense
  • evasion
  • artifice
  • sham
  • refuge
  • deception
  • ruse
  • stratagem
  • scheme
  • device
  • plan

If someone wants to use a word that is the opposite of subterfuge, they can use what is called an antonym. An antonym is a word or phrase that has the opposite definition as a given word or phrase. The below list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • goodness
  • sincerity
  • outspokenness
  • bluntness
  • trustiness
  • equity
  • veracity
  • fidelity
  • reputability
  • virtue
  • impeccability
  • soundness
  • responsibility
  • faithfulness
  • uprightness
  • incorruptibility
  • justness
  • straightforwardness
  • right
  • evenhandedness
  • principle
  • confidence
  • candor
  • genuineness
  • honor
  • plainness
  • fairness
  • loyalty
  • candidness
  • integrity
  • self-respect
  • conscientiousness
  • probity
  • honesty
  • truthfulness
  • rectitude
  • morality
  • trustworthiness
  • openness
  • frankness
  • scrupulousness
  • straightness

Overall, the word subterfuge is a noun that means some deception by artifice or stratagem in order to escape, evade, or conceal something. This word meaning trickery has both Latin and French roots, and is commonly used to describe some sort of ruse or trick.