I am looking for a word, or name of a concept, that describes a secret that

  • is kept from one group of people, e.g. a society (outsiders),
  • is known by a specific group of other people, e.g. journalists (insiders), and
  • that greatly affects what outsiders know about the topic, and affects how insiders discuss the topic.

Let us say the prime minister of your country is a single man of 40. Society knows nothing of this man's personal life, but journalists know for a fact that he is ragingly asexual*. They never publish this, however, because of some reason (reputation, respect).

This will have an effect on what the journalists write about this person. They will write little or nothing about his personal life, and in cases concerning asexuality avoid requesting a comment from him at all.

Society will only know the fact that little is known about his personal life and his stance on asexuality. It will seem odd to them, at least the critical ones, why so little is known – or rather, why his personal life is not used to gather votes.

Is there a term for this other than secret? It seems to me that it has more weight than a mere secret. It could, in this case, affect a whole society.

* I have nothing against asexuality, nor should there be anything unusual about it, but in the contemporary society it could be pivotal to elections etc.


4 Answers 4


A disgraceful secret such as you describe is called a skeleton in the closet (or in the cupboard).

From Dictionary.com:

10a. a family scandal that is concealed to avoid public disgrace 10b. any embarrassing, shameful, or damaging secret

Generally it's used as a complete phrase (skeleton in the closet/cupboard), but the skeletons (secrets) can be referred to without the idiom in the right context. (Who knows what other skeletons the Prime Minister might be hiding?)

World Wide Words traces the origin back to the fact that medical practitioners illegally and secretly keep skeletons hidden away for anatomical research purposes at a time before it was legal to do such research.

The idea that a skeleton was a figurative representation of a secret shame was once thought to be the inspiration of William Makepeace Thackeray, who wrote in an article in Punch in 1845 that “There is a skeleton in every house.”


Advance information regarding the activities of a corporation is referred to as insider information – particularly when that information can be used for financial gain.


The term

inside baseball

is intended to mean things insiders know (like arcane techniques or for exploiting a rarely encountered rule), things that an outsider wouldn't know about or care about.


It sounds like the inside scoop

Information that only an insider would have. I got the inside scoop from the manager of the store. They're not going to press charges against the shoplifter. [Urban Dictionary]

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