Cloak-and-dagger is an idiom that is several hundred years old.  An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the definition of the phrase cloak-and-dagger, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Cloak-and-dagger describes an activity or operation that involves espionage, mystery or secrecy. Originally, cloak-and-dagger was a French term, de cape et d’épée, and also a Spanish term, de capa y espada, both of which translate literally as cape and sword. These phrases came from a type of dramatic play that was popular in these countries in the eighteenth century. In these dramas, a character often concealed his identity and his weapon behind a cloak. Note that the term cloak-and-dagger is properly rendered as hyphenated, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as it is an adjective used before a noun. However, the term is sometimes seen without hyphens, as in cloak and dagger.



Also in June, Banco Popular in Spain was sold in a cloak-and-dagger operation – for a symbolic single euro, but at least without becoming a burden on the state treasury. (Deutsche Welle)

Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency has set up an investment fund to help development of new cloak-and-dagger know-how and is offering grants of up to 2 million shekels (about $570,000) per project to bring in new ideas. (Reuters)

A Tallahassee-based special agent for the FBI offered a tantalizing look into one of the agency’s cloak-and-dagger investigations in a recent interview. (The Tallahassee Democrat)

“Notorious”: Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman fall in love while doing cloak-and-dagger work on the trail of postwar Nazis in South America in in Alfred Hitchcock’s terrific 1946 thriller. (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)


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