I'm trying to figure out how to use the word plaintext when it comes to cryptography.

I see different variants of it. Some people use the single-word variant: plaintext.

Others type it as plain text, 2 words.

What is the correct way to use it? Should it be 1 word or 2? And why is this the case?

Does the same go for ciphertext?

  • Hello Vincent. What do you learn from the entry given by AHDEL? The Collins entry given next seems to license only one spelling variation. Does this fit in with the rule of thumb 'compound nouns progress from the open form to the solid form more quickly in the US than in the UK'? Have you looked up 'compound noun spelling' or 'open compound' here on ELU? – Edwin Ashworth Mar 16 '15 at 9:53
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    Plaintext is a term of art in cryptography and so isn't bound by convention, which in ordinary writing would give us "plain text" – Jim Mack Mar 16 '15 at 10:04
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    "Plaintext" and "ciphertext" are, as Jim says, terms which are "defined" by cryptographers. They could call them "skutrp" and "npsezt" if they wanted to. – Hot Licks Mar 16 '15 at 11:58

If you want to refer to an unencrypted message, you should use 'plaintext' as this is (as Jim Mack and Hot Licks say) a term of art used in cryptography to refer to such messages (you can think of how you would use the word 'cyphertext' when refering to an encrypted message).

If you want to refer to the media type that indicates text containing no formatting commands or directives of any sort you should use 'plain text'

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