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Is there a noun that means "someone who's in on a secret"? There are words like accomplice and co-conspirator for people who take part in clandestine activities, but I failed to find one for people trusted with a secret, but not actively participating in anything.

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10 Answers 10

up vote 111 down vote accepted

Consider confidant

A person with whom one shares a secret or private matter, trusting them not to repeat it to others: a close confidante of the princess


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I was literally going to put the same word! You beat me to it! – William Feb 11 at 1:45
There is a spelling issue – Henry Feb 11 at 10:11
This was my choice of words as well. – Doug R. Feb 12 at 14:18
This came to my mind immediately - and I was saddened when I clicked on the question to see all the reputation you're getting that could have been mine!!! :D – Andrew Feb 13 at 2:58



One who has special knowledge or access to confidential information. American Heritage® Dictionary


A person who is being formally accepted or who has been formally accepted as a member of a group or organization

(adj.) Instructed in some secret knowledge M-W


A person to whom something is confided or entrusted; He's the repository of many secrets. M-W

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+1 for initiate, that's pretty perfect – Josh Rumbut Feb 10 at 21:50
Related to "insider", the adjective "inside" is sometimes used. – Mark S. Feb 11 at 1:17
"partner in crime" ? :) – rogerdpack Feb 11 at 3:44

Originally conspirator simply meant someone who breathed with you; but words change and as you say, it desn't mean that now.

Try confidant

Merriam-Webster link.

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+1 for the right answer and being the first to post by less than one second. – Mari-Lou A Feb 13 at 12:53

Conspirator is a suitable synonym

One of a group that acts in harmony https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/conspirator

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Yes, except that "conspiracy" is normally suggestive of something illegal. One might speak of a conspiracy to rob a bank, for instance, or to assassinate a hated dictator. But deciding not to reveal a friend's illicit affair would not normally be considered conspiracy. – Paul Johnson Feb 10 at 22:09
Conspirator has negative connotations. – William Feb 11 at 1:47
Sense and meaning are not the same. One can make new sense of the word. New meaning comes from novel implementation. Read Frege Sinn und Beitdung. – daemondave Feb 12 at 1:05
The whole point of questions just as these is to get words that fit the context the poster has in mind. "Novel implementations" are not particularly useful if nobody else knows what you're talking about. Anyhow, as a German speaker I will have to nitpick that the book you're referring to is called "Über Sinn und Bedeutung". – Voo Feb 12 at 12:18
A conspirator can be doing one of two things: something nefarious, or dreaming by a fire in a winter wonderland. Anything else is right out. – corsiKa Feb 12 at 20:38

The word privy almost meets your requirements, but it is an adjective rather than a noun. I have heard people use privies as noun but I can't verify the correctness of that or not.

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Be careful with that: There's also the noun "privy" meaning "outhouse" (or bathroom/toilet in general) – Peter Cordes Feb 10 at 18:33
It would be great to provide an example of its usage. I can only imagine it being used in the negative sense: "Stephen is not privy to the details of that part of the plan." – joeytwiddle Feb 14 at 15:19

The most pedantic and archaic, and thus the most correct, is Secretary which literally means the keeper of secrets.

From the latin Secretum (secret) the primary use of the word Secretary in middle English was exactly what you are talking about. A person that keeps secrets.

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+1 for an amusing etymology lesson, but no one should ever use this word to mean "keeper of secrets" in modern English. – ApproachingDarknessFish Feb 13 at 7:26
I don't know maybe we should bring it back as "executive assistant" has usurped the office meaning. Especially in secret societies. – King-Ink Feb 13 at 22:46

You might consider inner circle, which implies a select few who possess special knowledge or power that is not available to others.

inner circle

: a small group of people who lead a government or an organization or who are close to its leader

source: Merriam-Webster

While this definition speaks of an organization, to me the term can equally apply to unofficial groups of people that can't be necessarily described as an organization—the group can be defined simply by who knows a shared secret. A native English speaker would definitely accept, for example: "Jerry hasn't been approved by everyone to be in the inner circle yet, so we can't tell him about George's double or he'll figure out it's time travel, not just teleportation!"

Since you did ask for a single word, you could simply call folks in the inner circle inner-circlers. Though likely a unique word, I think this would be well-understood by native speakers.

You could say "inner circle member" if you're willing to use a phrase rather than a single word.

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I think "members of the inner circle" would be a better usage. Native speakers might look at you funny if you say "inner circlers". – joeytwiddle Feb 14 at 15:21
I confess it's not usual but they would all understand you! – ErikE Feb 14 at 16:42

Don't know the noun, but in certain contexts, we describe someone in an organisation as being "read in" if they have been made privy to confidential information. There would usually be a record of who has been 'read in'.

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How about collaborator?

col·lab·o·ra·tor kəˈlabəˌrādər/ noun noun: collaborator; plural noun: collaborators

1.a person who works jointly on an activity or project; an associate.
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Welcome to EL&U. Please remember to cite your sources. – choster Feb 12 at 1:19
Noah Webster? Online Thesaurus. – Tim S. Feb 12 at 1:54
Which online thesaurus? – choster Feb 12 at 1:55
I don't think that fits the OP's requirement that the person be "not actively participating in anything". – joeytwiddle Feb 14 at 15:23

Also consider informal phrases such as She's cool or He's one of us.

These tend to be used to indicate to someone that a person is already privy to any secrets that someone might wish to discuss, so it is okay to talk about secrets with them present.

Sophie (eyeing David): So I want to talk to you about that (secret) thing...
James: Don't worry, David's cool, he's one of us.
Sophie: Ah. Then I have some questions about the bank robbery...

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No explanation of the downvote... – SLC Feb 15 at 13:43

protected by Matt E. Эллен Feb 16 at 11:30

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