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Using or involving secrecy, deception, or espionage, especially the kind portrayed in dramatic depictions of spying. During the Cold War, there were always rumors of the latest cloak-and-dagger tactics being used by spies. I know I said I wanted to meet you in private, but you didn't have to be so cloak-and-dagger about it. A parking garage isn't what I had in mind.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
involving secrecy and plotting. A great deal of cloak-and-dagger stuff goes on in political circles. A lot of cloak-and-dagger activity was involved in the appointment of the director.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
COMMON You use cloak-and-dagger to describe activities, especially dangerous ones, which are done in secret. Now that the Berlin Wall has come down, the cloak-and-dagger world of East-West espionage might appear to be outdated. They met in classic cloak-and-dagger style beside the lake in St James's Park. Note: You can refer to such activities as cloaks and daggers. Working in police intelligence has very little to do with cloaks and daggers — it's mostly about boring reports and endless statistics. Note: You sometimes use this expression to suggest that people are treating these activities in an unnecessarily dramatic way. Note: This expression is taken from the name of a type of 17th century Spanish drama, in which characters typically wore cloaks and fought with daggers or swords.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
Describing a secret or undercover operation. The term dates from seventeenth-century Spain, and the popular swashbuckling plays of Lope de Vega and Pedro Calderón de la Barca, filled with duels, intrigue, and betrayal. They were referred to as comedias de capa y espada, which was variously translated as “cloak-and-sword” or “cloak-and-dagger plays.” Somewhat later, in the nineteenth century, the term began to be applied to various kinds of romantic intrigue, and still later, to espionage. The idea of concealment was, of course, much older, and indeed, Chaucer wrote of “The smyler with the knyf under the cloke” (The Knight’s Tale).
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer