- This article is about the concept generally, for its meaning specific to politics, see Dog-whistle politics.
A code word
is a word or a phrase designed to convey a predetermined meaning to certain listeners while sounding inoffensive to other listeners not aware of its true meaning.
may use code words to send messages to one another in the presence of a client or customer. For example, a customer support professional may say, "The problem was with the PEBKAC", (meaning "Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair", in other words the end user
) or "it was an ID 10 t error" ("ID10t" meaning "idiot" in leet
- There is a wide range of hospital emergency codes, usually based on colors not strictly standardized but including common terms such as "code blue" to summon the cardiac arrest team. Terms like "code red and "code blue are also commonly used in hospital settings to alert staff to fires or electrical problems, without scaring other patients. Alternatively, a doctor or nurse may page "Dr. Brown" or a similar fictitious person as a covert request for immediate security when dealing with a potentially combative patient.
- Similarly a doctor may refer to a suspected case of tuberculosis as "Koch's Disease" in order to avoid alarming patients.
- Some medical nicknames are derogatory, such as GOMER for "Get Out of My Emergency Room".
- Wal-Mart uses a system of code words to communicate with employees without alarming customers; for example, "Code Brown" signifies gunfire on the premises.
- Some stores have special codes that allow one employee to inform another that a certain customer in the store needs to be watched because they are acting in a suspicious manner similar to the prototypical behavior of a shoplifter.
- Movie theater employees may say, "Mr. Johnson is in theater number three" to indicate that there is a fire or smoke in that theater. Nightclubs and bars often use the name "Mr. Sands".
- In Star Trek, Captain Kirk's code word "condition green" meant, "I am being detained by force and watched; please help immediately."
- In the book and film Airport, the name Lester Mainwaring is used to indicate a police officer is needed at a certain place. If an announcement over the public address system indicated that Lester Mainwaring was wanted at a particular ticket counter, the nearest police officer would respond. If an announcement was made that "Lester Mainwaring and all members of his travel party" were to go to a specific location, it would mean to summon every police officer in the terminal to that location.
- In Fox's 24 Jack Bauer uses the code "Flank Two" to mean that he is currently in custody and is being forced to relay false information back to the Counter Terrorist Unit.
- When hippies called marijuana "Mary Jane" in the 1960s, they intended to communicate their meaning to some but not to others, as the drug was illegal.
- The term "code word" was used prominently in 1998 by Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz when he testified before the House Judiciary Committee, opposing the impeachment of President Clinton. Rep. Bob Barr said, "Real America understands that the Constitution is there for a reason," to which Dershowitz responded, "Whenever I hear the words 'real Americans', that sounds to me like a code word for racism, a code word for bigotry, a code word for anti-Semitism.
- When lawyers assess the merits of a personal injury case in front of a client, one may emphasize to the other that the client has only "soft tissue" injuries, signaling that he thinks the client may be faking, and the case should not be taken.
- When a lawyer incurs the ire of a judge in open court, he may start to defend himself with, "Your Honor, as an officer of the court," which is designed to remind the judge that they are on the same team, sworn in by the state's highest court, and he wants professional courtesy despite his offense. This code word was used repeatedly by Mark Fuhrman's lawyer in the People of Calif. vs. O.J. Simpson (1995), after F. Lee Bailey caught the lawyer in a misrepresentation regarding the out-of-pocket expenses that he had incurred in preparing for Fuhrman's anticipated defense.
- Police use the ten-code system.
- Emergency rescue workers or police officers may say, "There is a 'K'," to mean a dead body.
Military and intelligence
Military and intelligence organizations commonly use code words or nicknames to conceal the meaning of plans, operations, or techniques. For example, Operation Overlord was the well-known Allied code name for the invasion of northwest Europe in World War II. The more tightly guarded Operation Neptune was the code word for the actual beach invasion in the Battle of Normandy.
Highly classified operations that require access beyond that authorized by a basic security clearance may generically be called "codeword". Using this type of codeword must comply with administrative regulations and laws concerning the type of program involved, specifically "Special Access Program" or "Sensitive Compartmented Information". See the article on compartmented access for some of the requirements for appropriate use of such codewords.
Informal code word
An informal code word
is a term used without formal or prior agreement to communicate to a subset of listeners or readers predisposed to see its double meaning.
Informal code words can find use in propaganda, distinct from use of euphemistic code words to delay or avoid emotional responses in the audience. They may be intended to be construed as generalized platitudes by the majority of listeners, but as quite specific promises by those for whom the specific wording was crafted. For instance, a reference in late-20th century America to "places like Pearl Harbor and Bataan" (while omitting mention of Normandy) would seem to many a vague expression of respect for World War II veterans, but would often mean "I won't trust Japan or the Japanese" to veterans of the Pacific Theater, and their relatives old enough to have followed the news and propaganda of the war.