5

I'm looking for a noun which is kind of word or phrase that is used to indicate the existence of some unspoken knowledge that the speaker has.

For example:

Her use of the the word "pincushion" was a deliberate ___________ intended to let him know that she knew his secret identity, without alerting those she suspected to be listening in.

I've a feeling this word begins with an S and has 3 or 4 syllables, but am drawing a long blank in my memory...

  • 1
    I can actually live with this sentence: Her use of the the word "pincushion" was intended to let him know that she knew his secret identity, without alerting those she suspected to be listening in. Oh.. and the word you are looking for is Surreptitious. – Karma May 25 '16 at 13:47
  • The word I am looking for is a noun, I've clarified my phrasing of the question a bit. – Matthew Gilliard May 25 '16 at 13:47
  • It doesn't mean what you are looking for, but the word that would fit that sentence would be codeword -> "Pincushion was a codeword..." However among antonyms of secrets, you have "revelation" and "disclosure" but no word beginning with an S I'm afraid. – MorganFR May 25 '16 at 13:53
  • Keep em coming :) This word isn't necessarily related to spying or secrecy, could be (for example) to tell that someone had been to the same university as you without being so much of a bore as to say it out loud, or similar. – Matthew Gilliard May 25 '16 at 13:57
  • Well, clue can work here, but may be too generic. – Lawrence May 25 '16 at 14:22
11

Shibboleth comes close, though it's not used in the way you intend. Historically, it was used as a proxy test related to whether the person started the word with the sh- sound or the s- sound.

Shibboleth noun A custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important: liberal shibboleths about education - ODO

A shibboleth ... in its original signification and in a meaning it still bears today, is 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. - wikipedia

  • Thank you. This is the word I was looking for, in the sense: "a word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibboleth – Matthew Gilliard May 25 '16 at 14:36
  • @MatthewGilliard Thanks. I prefer that historical usage - it's now added to the answer. :) – Lawrence May 25 '16 at 14:57
  • 1
    no one will understand this if you say it, some of these other suggestions seem a better fit to my ears – Matt May 25 '16 at 19:08
  • @Matt I've clarified the usage of this term in the first paragraph. – Lawrence May 26 '16 at 4:01
  • Oh wow! Absolute genius!!! However, if you are writing a book, a generic reader may have to dive in the dictionary. Eloquence is a turn on. Just saying :) – Karma May 26 '16 at 5:39
6

You might be looking for cipher, "a coded message" (sense 7, here). It begins with an /s/ sound and works in your context:

Her use of the word "pincushion" was a deliberate cipher intended to let him know that she knew his secret identity.

Intimation, meaning "the action of making something known, especially in an indirect way" (here), also works in your context.

Other suggestions:

  • wink
  • signal
  • nod
  • cue
  • clue
  • hint

Wink works especially well, since winks are usually done on the sly, under the radar of others who are around:

Her use of the word "pincushion" was a deliberate wink intended to let him know that she knew his secret identity.

  • Yes, you've got the gist of my poorly-phrased question, which is reassuring. We've not hit the exact one yet, though I do like the metaphorical use of "wink". – Matthew Gilliard May 25 '16 at 14:15
  • I think "signal" is the best fit. – Max Williams May 25 '16 at 14:27
2

"subtleness" (or "subtlety") seems to be the word you're looking for.

"Her use of the the word "pincushion" was a deliberate subtleness/subtlety intended to let him know that she knew his secret identity, without alerting those she suspected to be listening in."

  • subtleness - the property of being subtle, of avoiding brute force and instead being clever or skillful.

"The movie was praised for the subtleness of its themes. None of it came off as being too preachy."

"subtlety" is a good fit too.

  • The phrase "was a deliberate subtleness" sounds a bit unnatural to me. Does it sound perfectly fine to you? – GoldenGremlin May 25 '16 at 14:32
  • 2
    @Silenus "subtlety" sounds more natural. – Centaurus May 25 '16 at 14:34
  • Just another datapoint FYI the phrase "a deliberate subtleness" sounds fine to me (GB-en). – Matthew Gilliard May 25 '16 at 14:54
1

I think tell works best here

to give information to (someone) by speaking or writing

Merriam-Webster

1

If there is an agreement between the speaker and listener (or group) beforehand, you might call such a word a dog-whistle, implying something that you know the speaker will hear a certain way that others will not. This term is often used in politics, for example, where one might, say, accuse a right-wing politician of using a term like "limiting Israeli expansion" as a dog-whistle to his anti-semitic supporters.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.