The Indian term for zero was SUNYA which meant empty or blank. When the Arabs of the 10th century adopted the Indian numeration, they translated the Indian sunya by their own SIFR which meant empty in Arabic. When the Indo-Arabic numeration was first introduced into Italy, SIFR was Latinized into ZEPHIRUM. This happened at the beginning of the 13th century and the word underwent a series of changes which culminated in the Italian ZERO. About the same time Jordanus Nemerarius was introducing the Arabic system into Germany. He kept the Arabic word changing it slightly to CIFRA. In the English language the word CIFRA has become cipher and has retained its original meaning of ZERO.
(W.H.Auden : A Certain World)