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Code word

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We control what
you think with

Icon language.svg
Said and done
Jargon, buzzwords, slogans hovercraft is full of eels!
Monty Python, Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook[1]

A code word is a type of term of art whose meaning is intentionally obscured, usually in order to increase acceptability to outsiders. The act of using code words is often referred to as dog whistle politics, referring to the fact that the "code" can only be understood or heard by a select target group. Many, though not all, such terms are also snarl words, but are used to disguise the outright offense that they would cause if the user just spoke literally. Many Christian terms, including "salvation", "pagan", and the like, were code words in the original Greek and Latin forms. Similar to the "euphemism treadmill", some code words eventually cease to be coded as they've been used so often that people can see through them.

In many respects, prayers and especially imprecatory prayers can be viewed as coded messages, although in a slightly different sense to a "code word". In these cases, prayers that call for actions — ostensibly by the hand of God — may be seen as incitement for people to actually carry it out. Prayers calling for good acts can also generate this effect, so preachers name-dropping charitable acts may inspire their flock to donate their time or money. More sinisterly, preachers who call for curses to be placed on their opponents may just be blowing off steam, but are guilty of incitement should anyone try to take the matter into their own materialistic hands — it could be further argued that this is intentional, and coding the request behind a call for divine intervention absolves a preacher from guilt.

Example code words[edit]

Code words attempt to disguise a particular view, making it palatable to outsiders who have yet to "decode" it, while allowing the less savory meanings to be understood by the in-group. This makes them slightly different from plain loaded language, which tries to sway opinions about a subject.

Balance the budget
To cut public services and aid to the vulnerable. Notably, this never involves taxing billionaires and enforcing existing tax laws on them. This predominantly-Republican aim is beloved by undereducated people (the Right's major voter base these days) who don't understand that this would directly impact and harm them.
Biological reality
Used by various groups who claim that science sides with them, even if their understanding of science is oversimplified, outdated, or irrelevant to the topic at hand. Most commonly used to defend gender roles or justify racism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism.
Cultural enrichment
Phrase used by white supremacists to refer to works of fiction that portray people of color, LGBT people, and women in a positive light and as a snarl word against the above-mentioned.
Ethics in games journalism
Possibly the clearest example ever of neatly wrapping a raving bunch of nuttery under a neat code phrase. Who could be against ethics?!
Family values/Pro-family
Broadly interpreted as homophobia (making many purported "family values" advocates rather "anti-family", since they're e.g. for not allowing people to marry and start a family, if they happen to have the same plumbing as their desired spouse) and misogyny (e.g. of the "Kinder, Küche, Kirche"-kind of type or worse), but is essentially actively discriminating against most "alternative" lifestyles or anything remotely "non-traditional" (even though the traditional, or Nuclear Family, of "one man, one woman, two sweet kids, a dog and a picket fence" ideal has little to no basis in historical reality).
Judicial activism
Any time judges make a ruling that the speaker, usually but not necessarily conservative, disapproves of. Typically, this means constitutional reasoning that the speaker finds implausible or at odds with the intent of the authors of said constitution, although in many cases the speaker has not actually read the judge's ruling.
Gender critical feminism
In theory, it's a term for feminism that is critical of gender roles and their impact on society. In practice, it's a code word for trans-exclusionary radical feminism.
Da Joos and their "enablers", in relation to an International Jewish conspiracy.
Government handout
Any money the government gives to causes you don't deem worthy. Often used by Republicans as a not so subtle racist dog whistle, similar to "welfare queens". Subsidies that the speaker does not oppose, like farm subsidies, veterans' benefits or federal money transfers to money-losing "red states"[note 1] are never called "handouts", nor are the government's enormous subsidies to big business.
Intelligent design
The ID movement began as a way to secularize creationism; people are happy with a "design hypothesis" but less happy when it's overtly religious. Although ID claims to be a "scientific" way of thinking, rather than just a code word, the fact that it's considered by the scientific community as identical to creationism qualifies it as a mere code word. The appearance of "cdesign proponentsists" in the "textbook" Of Pandas and People, clearly a sloppy attempt to replace "creationists" with "design proponents", is generally considered the smoking gun, though a somewhat unnecessary one given the existence of things like the Wedge Document.
Radical Islam
Roughly translates in reality as all of Islam, radical or otherwise. "Combating radical Islam" is usually used in place of "let's invade their countries and convert them to Christianity". The misuse of this term has, unfortunately, made it difficult for those who wish to combat only radical or fundamentalist Islam.
Male friendly content
This and similar terms have been cropping up increasingly amongst MRA forums and rants about feminists. Basically code for rape jokes and threats about domestic violence.
Open mind/do your own research
Usually when this is used as an escape hatch, either to denigrate an opponent as supposedly "closed minded", or possibly a euphemism for "why won't you agree with me?!" — often used in conjunction with "decide for yourself", which basically means "if you don't decide the same thing as me, you need to open your mind".
A term used by Sovereign citizens to self-identify. Apparently you can't be patriotic unless you perform the voodoo rituals that will allegedly remove yourself from Federal jurisdiction.
Physical removal
While this could mean exile or deportation, it is sometimes used by far-right extremists to mean murdering political opponents or people of other races. Fortunately, usually a fantasy among the online far right, but can sometimes be used literally, e.g. in the manifesto of the Christchurch terrorist in 2019.
These can mean a number of different things depending on who says it, but in general, bringing up the idea of "choice" is used to demonize an opponent as "anti-choice", and by extension "anti freedom". For example, pro-choice leads to the idea that anti-abortion campaigners are against a woman's right to control their fertility, and choice is also brought up by anti-vaxxers when they know that their claims can't be backed up by evidence — they must be given a choice of whether to take a vaccine, and evidence and benefits are irrelevant. Similarly, "pro-life" is used to insinuate that proponents of legalized abortion not only approve of abortion, but approve of death and killing as well.
Recognize the enemy
Using profiling to weed out who a terrorist is, i.e., do they look Muslim? Essentially code for "round up the ragheads."
Religious freedom/religious liberty
The "freedom" to continue withholding basic rights from the LGBTQ community or anyone else whose existence one feels offended by. Not to be confused with freedom of religion.
Right to Work (or recently, the even more Orwellian "Economic Freedom")
Used to put a warm, fuzzy glow on policies aimed at busting unions and obliterating workplace safety and employee rights. These are particularly nasty examples, as they're carefully crafted to appeal to the people they hurt most, like unemployed and under-employed blue-collar workers.
Secure the border
In a similar vein, a euphemism used in the U.S. for securing the Mexican border so as to keep out "racial undesirables"; the Canadian border is never mentioned (or extremely rarely and only during diatribes about the Northern neighbor of the US being supposedly Communist, Liberal or what-not).
Strong national defense
Often used by, e.g., neoconservatives as a euphemism for "bombing the shit out of uppity foreign countries", since neocons pretend to be doing this in furtherance of human rights and cannot say that openly. It also refers to increasing military spending, often exponentially.
School choice
Getting around desegregation, while also making sure little Billy or little Suzy don't learn science or history in school.
Used by every bad government ever to defend some kind of likely bad action that they've done. If it's a war, the government will call its (usually non-state) opponents terrorists regardless of how moderate they are our whether they target civilians. See Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey for prime examples.
Tough on crime
"Three strikes" laws, rounding up all those uppity negroes non-violent drug offenders and generally everything that has led to the high rate of incarceration in the US, all the while sending profits to private prisons. Using capital punishment despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Almost all "red states" are net takers of federal money, whereas noted liberal bastions like New York and California pay way more money to DC than they get back