Here's an example: a group of my friends has a term we invented. It's a verb that means "to pronounce over-correctly", used of a word borrowed from another language when that word has a common anglicized pronunciation, but the speaker of the word chooses instead to pronounce in the source language. There may be a standard English word that has this same meaning, but our private word is derived from the name of a person we know who does this often, and so it's sort of an inside joke: "Oh, stop Trauthing, you pompous fool."

The word I'm looking for describes such a private word. Sort of like a single word in an idioglossia but with no surrounding language; the private word stands on its own. Taking a cue from neologism I might coin the word idiologism but that word apparently already exists (or so says google) and has a slightly different meaning since it's only used by one person.

Is there a word for a coined, private word, which has a specific meaning only to a certain small group of people?

  • 3
    inside joke.... Jun 13, 2014 at 0:28
  • Possible duplicate of: english.stackexchange.com/questions/18049/…
    – silkfire
    Jun 13, 2014 at 12:27
  • 1
    Jargon is useful for anyone who hears it. Jargoff is specific to your group and not useful to others.
    – aslum
    Jun 13, 2014 at 14:38
  • Shibboleth is exactly the correct answer, good work Ramsay.
    – Fattie
    Jun 14, 2014 at 10:17

9 Answers 9


I would call the word itself a pet term. This is an interesting topic, and pet terms are probably common within families and other small, tight-knit groups.

An example of this usage, in a headline from a media analysis website:

Limbaugh Explains His Pet Term "New Castrati": Men Who Are "Bullied By Women And The Power Structure And Liberalism"

Note that this is not the same as a term of endearment.

EDIT: This is not an established linguistic term. I consulted a few sociolinguistics textbooks and didn’t find any discussion of this kind of ephemeral in-group language. One place to look would be studies of college slang, like Connie Eble’s Slang and Sociability.

Pet term is also different from pet word, which seems to have a generally accepted meaning: a word that is frequently used or otherwise favored by an individual person or writer. Pet words are already part of the general lexicon, though. Brad Leithauser has a 2013 New Yorker piece about pet words. He gives some examples (sweet for Shakespeare, lad for A.E. Housman) and compares them to stray cats taken in by their users:

Each of these words presents the critic with a little puzzle of devotion: What was it about this particular package of syllables? Why was this stray cat escorted into the author’s studio and offered a saucer of cream and a plump pillow by the fireplace? It’s not as though the studio were soundproof; during working hours, the author no doubt could hear other strays, seemingly no less deserving, meowing clamorously for admission.

Link: Pet Words

So, pet term (rather than word) can convey that it's favored by the in-group, but not established as a true word yet.

  • I like this and it sounds pretty close to what I'm looking for. But I can't seem to find a definition or any other examples besides the one about Limbaugh and "New Castrati". Do you have any other references?
    – jbyler
    Jun 14, 2014 at 0:35
  • @jbyler: I don't, as I explain in the edit. What you are looking for is so ephemeral that it seems to have passed under the radar of sociolinguists.
    – neubau
    Jun 14, 2014 at 16:04

I prefer "Shibboleth". It has a great history and REALLY closely matches the context-specific nature of your request.

Per Wikipedia: a word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups. Within the mindset of the ingroup, a connotation or value judgment of correct/incorrect or superior/inferior can be ascribed to the two variants.


  • I love Shibboleth. I used it a couple of days ago to describe the relationship five year old girls have with the lyrics of Let It Go. However, in this particular case I think argot is the better answer.
    – tobyink
    Jun 13, 2014 at 5:52
  • 8
    Shibboleth does not fit. It is not about not knowing the word, it is about not being able to learn it. You will never be able to pronounce Chuchichäschtli, so it is a shibboleth. But you can start using a jargon word or an inside joke correctly after hearing it just a single time, thus they are not shibboleths.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jun 13, 2014 at 8:48
  • 3
    @RegDwigнt: A shibboleth is not unlearnable - it's simply a linguistic (orig.) marker that identifies a particular cultural / ethnic / etc group. For example: "eh" is the quintessential Canadian shibboleth - and easy enough to learn for just about anyone...
    – Ben M
    Jun 13, 2014 at 17:37
  • @BenM Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, 'Let me cross,' the men of Gilead would ask, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he said, 'No,' they then said, 'Very well, say "Shibboleth" (שבלת).' If anyone said, "Sibboleth" (סבלת), because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion. —Judges 12:5–6, NJB If it were easily learnable, you'd think some of those forty-two thousand would have learned pretty quickly. Jun 13, 2014 at 19:41
  • 1
    @BenM But yes, modern usage is more about the marker, and probably doesn't suggest unlearnability. Jun 13, 2014 at 19:41

I guess argot:

special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand.

  • 2
    Argot does not fit. OP specifically mentioned that the word should represent a single word without a surrounding language. Argot is a collection of words or a language. You might say "argot word" but then it is not a single word and there is still a surrounding language.
    – ermanen
    Jun 13, 2014 at 12:43
  • Yes, I agree with @ermanen: argot describes a group of words, not a single word. Plus it seems as though the argot is an important characteristic of the group. In our case, we don't have a specialized jargon, just this one funky word. But still, argot is a great word to know, so thanks!
    – jbyler
    Jun 14, 2014 at 0:33

As you are looking for a word that represents a secret word (but not a language or a system), it would be codeword (or code word):

a word or phrase that has a secret meaning or that is used instead of another word or phrase to avoid speaking directly

From urbandictionary:

a word or phrase shared by a group which has a special meaning to that group

codewords are often used to hide meaning or intention from anyone not in the group

Also, there is cryptonym but it is usually used for names.

A word or name that is used secretly to refer to another; a code name or code word.

This question deserves a made-up word also: idiolexeme

Though, it is used as a nonce word in a very few sources one of which defines as an individual formation.



is a variety of a language unique to an individual. It is manifested by patterns of word selection, vocabulary and word lexicon, grammar, or words, phrases, idioms, or pronunciations that are unique to that individual. Every individual has an idiolect; the grouping of words and phrases is unique, rather than an individual using specific words that nobody else uses. An idiolect can easily evolve into an ecolect—a dialect variant specific to a household.

  • Idiolect doesn't fit, since the word is shared among a group, but I think ecolect is pretty closely related. The only problem is that it describes a whole dialect, not a single one-off word. If we had a bunch of these words, I think ecolect would be perfect.
    – jbyler
    Jun 16, 2014 at 18:06
  • I think you are confusing ecolect(group/household) with idiolect(unique to an individual). The latter of which has been used to identify an individual in a criminal matter (Unabomber). It was and can be just one word, or even a style in using that one word, made-up or not.
    – Third News
    Jun 16, 2014 at 20:42

The following list of synonyms: may be helpful:

dialect, vernacular, jargon, cant2, argot, lingo, patois.

These nouns denote forms of language that vary from the standard.

Dialect usually applies to the vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation characteristic of specific geographic localities or social classes.

The vernacular is the informal everyday language spoken by a people.

Jargon is specialized language understood only by a particular group, as one sharing an occupation or interest.

Cant now usually refers to the specialized vocabulary of a group or trade and is often marked by the use of stock phrases.

Argot applies especially to the language of the underworld.

Lingo is often applied to language that is unfamiliar or difficult to understand.

Patois is sometimes used as a synonym for jargon or cant, but it can also refer to a regional dialect that has no literary tradition.

  • 1
    jargon should be used
    – vickyace
    Jun 13, 2014 at 5:56
  • @vickyace: Jargon would be found in public reference works; it's meaning is standardised, but of interest to (and therefore used by) only few. I gather that the terms OP asks about are completely meaningless outside the group, even for people who would have interest in their meaning; I would not say they qualify as jargon (though it is conceivable that some jargon started out as a kind of secret language). Jun 14, 2014 at 8:14

using an adjective, those are "esoteric" words, which means words intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.

to put it in a noun, I would advise "jargon," as suggested by others or "parlance," which means a particular way of speaking or using words, especially a way common to those with a particular job or interest


In the spirit of Orwell, I propose groupspeak.


Or maybe slang? That is also a kind of internal group speech.

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