from The American HeritageĀ® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A secret word or phrase used as a code name or password.
  • n. A euphemism: "The Democrats' 'populism' is a code word for bigger farm subsidies and protectionismā€ ( New Republic).


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  • TERM: code word

    DEFINITION: A secret word or phrase a group uses to hide meaning or intention from anyone not in the group, so as to prevent outsiders from knowing what the "in-group" is talking about.


    (1) ' A wide-open beaver was a photograph of a woman not wearing underpants, and with her legs far apart, so that the mouth of her vagina could be seen. The expression was first used by news photographers, who often got to see up women's skirts at accidents and sporting events and from underneath fire escapes and so on. They needed a code word to yell to other newsmen and friendly policemen and firemen and so on, to let them know what could be seen, in case they wanted to see it. The word was this: "Beaver!"

    -- From Kurt Vonnegut's 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions -- Chapter 2 (page 22 - 23).

    (2) ' "Can the reindeer hear you?" said Harry.

    ' "Fuck the reindeer," said Grace. Then she added, "No, the reindeer cannot hear." Reindeer was their code word for the black maid, who was far away in the kitchen at the time. It was their code word for black people in general. It allowed them to speak of the black problem in the city, which was a big one, without giving offense to any black person who might overhear.

    ' "The reindeer's asleep -- or reading the Black Panther Digest," she said.

    ' The reindeer problem was essentially this: Nobody white had much use for black people anymore -- except for the gangsters who sold the black people used cars and dope and furniture. Still, the reindeer went on reproducing. There were these useless, big black animals everywhere, and a lot of them had very bad dispositions. They were given small amounts of money every month, so they wouldn't have to steal. There was talk of giving them very cheap dope, too -- to keep them listless and cheerful, and uninterested in reproduction.

    ' The Midland City Police Department, and the Midland County Sheriff's Department, were composed mainly of white men. They had racks and racks of sub-machine guns and twelve-gauge automatic shotguns for an open season on reindeer, which was bound to come. '

    -- From Kurt Vonnegut's 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions -- Chapter 15 (pages 163 - 164).


    1973 KURT VONNEGUT, JR. Breakfast of Champions, or, Goodbye Blue Monday (c) 1973 by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Delacorte Press / Seymour Lawrence. Second Printing.

    Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data:

    Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of champions. I. Title.

    PZ4.V948BR PS3572.05 813'.5'4 72-13086

    August 27, 2013