Victor Hugo was one of the first to research argot extensively He describes it in his novel, Les Misérables, as the language of the dark; at one point, he says, "What is argot; properly speaking? Argot is the language of misery."
Bruce Sterling defines argot as "the deliberately hermetic language of a small knowledge clique... a super-specialized geek cult language that has no traction in the real world." For example: "He philosophized and recited baseball statistics in a Brooklyn argot that was fast-fading."
The earliest known recording of the term "argot" was in 1628, and the word probably derives from the name, les argotiers, given to a group of thieves at that time.
Under the strictest definition, an argot is a proper language, with its own grammar and style. Nevertheless, the term is also often used to describe coded systems such as verlan and louchébem, which retain French syntax and only apply transformations to individual words (and often only to a certain subset of words, such as nouns, or semantic content words). Such systems are examples of argots à clef, or "coded argots."