A secret word is frequently used in popular culture to provide tension and excitement. A minority of people know it, others don't and everyone is curious whether those who don't know it will find out what it is, or, how long it will take them? In certain stories the secret word may be a Trigger Phrase: once it's said a magic spell or hypnotic mind control device may change everything. In other stories a guard may only let someone enter a room unless the visitor says the secret word. See also The Password Is Always "Swordfish", Highly Visible Password (for tropes about obvious secret words) and Joe Sent Me (when a secret word has the variation "X sent me".)
In certain TV shows the audience is informed beforehand what the secret word for today is, while the panel members or contestants are unaware. During the show they have to guess it or, even more fun, are tricked into saying it. When the secret word is finally revealed to everybody the audience will laugh and cheer in excitement. He/She who said the secret word may win a prize or is considered to be the Butt-Monkey for that episode.
Secret words are also sometimes used during stage performances, as a sort of Inside Joke that either only the fans can get (and thus feel united by) or something that they can try to decipher as the show goes on.
- The Dutch radio show "Ekstra Weekend" (2006-2013) had an item called "The Secret Word", in which listeners could send their text messages at the moment the "secret word"-jingle was played. When a listener was chosen, he or she receives the secret word off-air. Then a friend or relative of the listener is called. When they pick up the phone, the contestant has to describe the secret word, without actually saying it or mentioning they are on national radio. When the other person guesses the word, instantly the James Last version of the "Too Fat Polka (She's too fat for me)" is played, while the entire studio goes crazy. Hammering things with trashcan lids or forming a conga line to celebrate the correct answer. At last the prizes the contestant wins are revealed. When the provided relatives or friends can't be reached, Fabienne de Vries was called. She's usually helpful to the contestant and almost always gets the right word.
- Horse Feathers: In this The Marx Brothers film an entire comedic scene is built around people unable to enter a room unless the say the password, which Groucho and Chico unknowingly keep saying.
- Password: In this game show contestants had to guess a secret word through a series of clues.
- Keep Talking: Had the same format as "Password".
- You Bet Your Life: Some show tension revolved around whether a contestant would say the "secret word", a common word revealed to the audience at the show's outset. If a contestant said the word, a toy duck resembling Groucho Marx with a mustache and eyeglasses, and with a cigar in its bill, descended from the ceiling to bring a $100 bill. Groucho sometimes slyly directed conversation to encourage the secret word to come up.
- Peewees Playhouse: At the start of every show Pee-Wee informed the audience what "the secret word for today is". He would try to make his guests say it, but they were not always that easily fooled and so sometimes Pee-Wee accidentally said it himself. When the secret word was said all children were allowed to "scream real loud" while in Pee-Wee's house itself an alarm went off.
- Saturday Night Live: A recurring joke in the show was the segment "Secret Word" in which two constestants in a game show had to guess hidden words based on clues from their celebrity partners.
- Ribert And Roberts Wonderworld: In this children's show three "magic keys" need to be obtained, after which a secret word is revealed in line with the day's subject.
- Ellen DeGeneres had a "Mystery Word" on her talk show, which she tried to get her guests to say. If one of them said it, it meant either a prize for the audience or a charity donation.
- In the episode of Sesame Street where the adults finally see Mr. Snuffleupagus, Big Bird arranges for them to come over whenever he shouts a secret word, "food". At one point, the cast debates over whether "food" is a silly word to Phil Donahue.
- The Kenny Everett Video Cassette had a segment whose sole purpose was to have a celebrity guest Covered in Gunge. They could allegedly avoid this by saying the 'secret word', which was always something incredibly unlikely to come up in casual conversation, like 'theodolite'.
- Frank Zappa introduced a "secret word" to his audience during all of his concerts. This was usually an inside joke only he and his band members would get, but it would hold the attention of the audience during the show. It's specifically mentioned during Fillmore East, June 1971 and The Yellow Shark.
- The Simpsons: In the episode "Marge Gets A Job" Krusty's TV show also turns out to have a "secret word" segment. Unfortunately the word is "loud" and involves a lot of celebration and noise, which alarms the wolf of a zoo keeper being a guest on the show so much that it escapes.
- Family Guy: The episode "Peter Griffin: Husband, Father... Brother?" has a parody of Pee Wees Play House in which Peter turns his house into Pee-Wee Herman's playhouse. After Lois calls this "ridiculous" it turns out that was the secret word for today.
- The word game Jotto also lets each player pick a secret word of five letters that the other players have to guess.
- Every defense system, from the military to social network sites, uses secret words as a pass word.