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Spy Speak

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Joel: The spotted cuckoo bird is flying backwards...
Crow: It's a cold day for pontooning.

Speaking in code. Not only spies, but anyone in a secret-ish organization having a reason to be discreet — like La Résistance with code phrases, a Man In Black using metaphor, a hit squad, etc. — might do this. A form of Cryptic Conversation.

Usually one of these three:

  1. Key words, or replacing people's names with common items, much like Double Speak, but can be less vague. This one is often parodied by the people speaking in complete non-sequiturs.
    Agent Bob: The Moles snuck into the Garden last night.
    Agent Alice: What's The Gardener's response?
    Agent Bob: He said to send The Exterminator.
    Agent Alice: May God have mercy on us all.
  2. A Metaphor, also known as "Open Code", similar to Unusual Euphemism and Trouble Entendre, with words and themes replacing the business of the organization, like the following:
    The Gardener: My garden is full of weeds this year, the herbicide isn't working.
    The Exterminator: Perhaps you should use a shear to clip the weeds.
    The Gardener: Shears are too indiscriminate; besides, weeds must be pulled out by the roots. Perhaps you could come and pull them out, for the usual fee?
  3. Sign/Countersign, or completely unrelated phrases meant to look like a casual conversation.
    Agent D: They said it would rain tomorrow.
    The Exterminator: You can't trust the weatherman, not in the summer.
    Agent D: It's good it will be autumn soon, then.
    The Exterminator: *pfft* It's good it will be fall soon, then.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the randomness of these kinds of spy speak, a completely unrelated civilian will get embroiled in whatever the plot is by randomly getting the code words, Sign Countersign, or metaphor right. Alternatively, a character might point out that they're doing this under unnecessary circumstances, and the codeword usage is just pointless. Another typical parody/subversion is to have the apparent Spy Speak turn out to be literally true, generating confusion. Might rely heavily on birds and flying.

Subtrope to Double Meaning. See also The Password Is Always "Swordfish", Attack Pattern Alpha, Military Alphabet, Talking through Technique and Reporting Names. Can overlap with Public Secret Message. May result in Mistaken for Badass. Codename Title is when this shows up in the name of the work.


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  • In a Priceline commercial William Shatner and a prospective customer exchange Sign/Countersign phrases.
    Customer: The eagle flies at dawn.
    Shatner: The monkey eats custard.
  • In this ad for The World Is Not Enough and BMW, two men exchange the following Sign/Countersign, subtitled with ad copy for BMW:
    "Does the red robin crow at dusk?"
    "Yes, but only in the shade of the big elk tree."
    "If it's raining in Brussels..."
    "It must be snowing in Spain."
Then a third man breaks in with "The circus elephant has lost its way," which puzzles the first two men right up to the point where they see the actual circus elephant.

    Anime & Manga 
  • The first episode of Cowboy Bebop has the Red Eye/Bloody Eye dealers speaking in code to identify themselves as buyers and sellers. Makes a brief return in a later episode when Gren and Vicious speak in code to arrange a meeting point for their deal. Spike, who is trying to listen in, is unable to tell where they'll be and has to wait until the deal goes sour and stuff starts blowing up before he can find them.
    Asimov: I'll have a beer.
    Asimov's Girlfriend: And I'll have a Bloody Mary, make it a double.
    Bartender: I've got the vodka, but I'm all out of tomato juice.
    Asimov: I'm sure there's one can in the back. [they both go to the back room to talk terms]
  • Death Note:
    • As part of his Memory Gambit, Light arranges with Ryuk that him saying "get rid of it" in any context would act as confirmation for relinquishing the Note. Then, in police custody he says that he needs to get rid of his pride. Once Ryuk recalls what he's supposed to do, Light loses all of his Kira-related memories.
    • An ad hoc variant when Matsuda is accosted by the Yotsuba group. This (slightly paraphrased) conversation takes place over mobile phones:
      L: Hey man, wanna go out drinking tonight?
      Matsuda: Uh, sorry, I can't tonight.
      L: What? Don't tell me your wallet's in trouble again?
      Matsuda: Yeah, that's it, I'm in big trouble with money right now.
    This, naturally, meant he was in trouble.
    • More subtle version: Light calls Mikami, and manages to give him very careful directions as to how to act as the latest Kira... without ever tipping off his dinner partner.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist:
    • The heroes fight a truly ghoulish Government Conspiracy, and as such have to improvise Spy Speak whenever there's even a slight chance of the walls having ears.
      Roy: Elizabeth was stolen by another man!
    • As evidenced above, Mustang's version is comprised almost entirely of talk about his many, many girlfriends. Who, incidentally, by the end of the manga pretty clearly utterly fail to exist. Most of the few actual women he's seen with turn out to be agents with his foster mother's information network.
    • Also, alchemical research is often written in code to make it difficult for the wrong people to decipher it. A particularly notable case occurs when it turns out that a seemingly ordinary cookbook is actually code for the process to create a Philosopher's Stone.
    • There's a lovely one which consists of Roy and Riza discussing a bunch of friends at lunch. The first initials of the names Riza mentions Roy spells out (in the loo) to convey the shocking Reveal: SELIM BRADLEY IS A HOMUNCULUS.
    • Mustang later does it again with General Armstrong, by having a seemingly normal conversation about the Armstrong family mansion, while they plan to hide the Briggs soldiers in said mansion in preparation for the upcoming coup.
  • Full Metal Panic!! The Second Raid. During briefing, one soldier mentions the "Cretan paradox" when a Cretan (someone from the island of Crete) says that all Cretans are liars. When Mithril realizes during a mission that they got an information leak, Kalinin invokes this conversation, secretly telling the team that they are about to confuse the enemy by him giving orders and the team doing the exact opposite. It works.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry: Local Creepy Child Rika likes to discuss the activities of "cats" that are quite prone to doing things. Rika is the reason for all the problems as the Big Bad wants to kill her.
  • In Hunter × Hunter, a group of people from the Phantom Troupe, including their leader Chrollo, have abducted Gon and Killua. Their friends Kurapika and Leorio figure out which hotel the Troupe will go to and intercept them there. As a way of cluing Gon and Killua that they're there in the hotel's lobby and what they're about to do, Leorio proceeds to yell angrily at someone over the phone pretending he's a boss giving a perpetually late employee a final warning, peppering his speech with words and phrases like "black" and "8:00 sharp" to signal to them the power will go out at exactly 8:00. The sudden blackout stuns the Phantom Troupe members (and everyone else in the lobby) enough for Gon and Killua to escape and for Kurapika to capture Chrollo.
  • In My Hero Academia, All For One has a phone conversation with his accomplices, Yuga Aoyama's parents, who have just been released from police custody. He asks for a "40 year old Macallan," and Aoyama's mother offers "one aged 16 years," presumably referencing All Might(the previous holder of One For All, who's in his middle ages) and Izuku Midoriya(the current holder of One For All, who's 16, respectively. All For One concludes the conversation by asking his accomplice to have their son deliver it(as in lure Midoriya into a trap) and looks forward to being able to give up the "ridiculous" codes.

    Audio Plays 
  • We're Alive:
    • Soldiers from Ft. Irwin use code phrases to identify themselves over radio or sat phone communications. These phrases are ad-libbed but require a certain combination of pre-arranged words within them. For example:
      Puck: Three tangos sat on the wire.
      Carl: The Roman pillar fell on the fish!
    • Earlier in the series, survivors from The Tower use bird-themed callsigns for people and places to disguise their communications over CB radio.

  • Bill Bailey claims dentists talk in Spy Speak to avoid terrifying patients with what they actually mean ("Fetch me THE WIDOWMAKER!"). He joins in with "The Pheasant Has No Agenda."
  • Used in the joke about the secret agent whose contact is living in one of those Welsh villages where lots of people have the same surname, so they are distinguished by referring to their occupation. The secret agent has just got off the train and is speaking to the station master:
    Agent: Where can I find Mr. Jones?
    Station Master: Ah, well, there are lots of Joneses here, you see. There's Jones the Milk, Jones the Post, Jones the Baker — why, my name is Jones!
    Agent: "The last swallow of summer is winging his way over the horizon!"
    Station Master: Ah, it's Jones the Spy you want!
A similar skit is performed on the album "You Don't have to be Jewish". The punchline is, "Oh you want Moscowitz the spy... top floor on the left."
  • One Russian joke about the fictional Soviet spy Stierlitz during World War II has Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller woken up at 3 AM by a knock on his door. Extremely annoyed, he goes to open it and sees a bearded man in a winter jacket, an earflap-hat adorned with a red star, and carrying with a huge radio set on his back:
    Bearded man: Camels go north.
    Heinrich Müller: Camels can go fuck themselves. Your spy Stierlitz lives on the next floor up.
  • Similarly, an old Egyptian joke involves a Mossad agent turning an Egyptian idiot named Nabil. Weeks later, his colleague comes to Cairo and knocks on a door:
    Israeli: I love photography.
    Guy at door: What?
    Israeli: Aren't you Nabil?
    Guy at door: Yes, and?
    Israeli: Well, I love photography.
    Guy at door: [with dawning delight] Oh, you mean Nabil the spy! He's up on the sixth floor.

    Comic Books 
  • A comic about a spy contained these lines:
    Spy: Shhh! My aunt has a sharp-witted ranger!
    Guy with sunglasses: Are you crazy or what??
  • Parodied in The Order of the Stick prequel book Start of Darkness.
    Right-Eye: The chimera has three sets of teeth.
    Eugene: ...I'm sorry?
    Right-Eye: I said, "The chimera has three sets of teeth."
    Eugene: Uh, well, I suppose it must take a long time for them to floss, then.
    Right-Eye: What?
    Eugene: I'm just saying, they probably get quite a bit of food stuck in between.
    Right-Eye: I don't think you heard me. I said, "The chimera—
    Eugene: Yes, yes, I heard you just fine. It simply doesn't make any more sense upon repetition. I mean, I am an important wizard. I don't have time to sit around a strange tavern on a rainy afternoon and discuss the assorted dental endowments of magical beasts. Take your bizarre oral fixation somewhere else before you scare off the guy who asked me to meet him here.
    Right-Eye: Look, I can see the letter I sent you from over here. Read the part right after where I wrote, "You will know me when I say the phrase, 'The chimera has three sets of teeth.'"
    Eugene: Ummm... "Then you will verify your identity by saying, 'Then its bite is thrice as deadly.'"
    Right-Eye: Thank you! Geez! Was that so hard?
    Eugene: "Thrice." Interesting word choice.
    Right-Eye: Just let it drop.
  • In one Josie And The Pussy Cats story, Melody is spouting "mixed-up maxims", and one just happens to be the pass-phrase for a covert operation. A foreign spy mistakes her for another operative, and gives her a secret file hidden in a stuffed animal. Needless to say, when the spy's real contact comes by, things get sticky...
  • Mortadelo y Filemón: Usually people around take these words literally with odd results. It doesn't help that several arranged codes seem to be offensive, requiring the agents to insult people having facial hair or a certain ideology or ethnicity. At that moment, an aggressive member of that group happens to overhear and deals with them accordingly. Fun fact: In Real Life, Enrique Chicote, the only man who ever got the top prize in the Spanish version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, answered one of the last questions correctly thanks to one of these jokes that he read in the comic books.
  • One eighties spy comic had the hero accidentally join an eco-terrorist group when stating that he didn't smoke because it was bad for the environment, thus accidentally providing the countersign the group's new bomb-maker was supposed to give. The eco-terrorists apparently assumed that anyone who wasn't their contact would cite the health benefits rather than the environmental impact as their reason, and are shaken when the hero points out that literally everyone knows that tobacco cultivation is extremely draining on the soil and requires huge amounts of pesticides. The eco-terrorists turn out to be sympathetic anti-heroes, so it works out.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Diana Prince and Steve Trevor have enough pre-arranged words and phrases that she's able to tell him the truth about the villain's real target in a letter the villain is forcing her to write to send the army on a wild goose chase, and which they read before sending to him.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Knights of the Dinner Table, players will occasionally use "player advantage codes" to communicate with each other without the game master knowing (e.g. when one player has important information that his character shouldn't be able to pass along to the rest of the party). The technique loses its effectiveness as game masters get wise to it.
  • There's a FoxTrot strip where Peter and Denise have a phone conversation in Spy Speak ("The heavy flag flaps not at night."); the final panel shows Jason, who has a complete wiretapping rig, telling Marcus "I think they're onto us.".
  • MAD did a satire on Mission: Impossible skewering about all the standard spy craft in it. In this satire, Jim got his orders from a coke machine in a cinema lobby, which burst into flames. A couple in the background, watching all of this said, "That's the most suspicious thing I've seen in my life." From then on, when ever something "spy-ish" took place, there was a couple observing it who said the same thing.
  • Parodied by The Bucketts.
    Toby: My cellphone needs new wallpaper.
    Grandpa: The fat man walks at midnight.
    [both stare at each other for a panel]
    Both: What the heck are you talking about?
  • At the start of one arc in Peanuts, Snoopy gets a letter that consists of three paw prints. "It must be from the Head Beagle," he muses, "it's in code!" (The next strip reveals that it says "Thompson is in Trouble!")

    Fan Works 
  • Bella of Luminosity makes these up sometimes, since she doesn't want anyone to die.
    "Remember I told you about Billy? It's him and his son Jacob. I'm going to stay and be sociable, and make sure they eat a nice dinner. I might not be over today at all. So please don't be alarmed and come wondering what the holdup is." Please don't come and activate the wolves, I meant, and hoped he'd understand.
  • Calvin and Hobbes do this while initiating Operation Spy on the Slimy Girl in Calvin & Hobbes: The Series
  • In The Art Of Drowning L and Watari use the keyword variety — which Light later unwittingly uses when pretending to be L:
    L: I would rather avoid Watari all together, but if there is a chance that he is not in league with Roger, then I would prefer him by my side. I'm just not looking forward to the interrogation.
    Light: Well, at least he'll bring tea and scones.
    L: What?
    Light: Erm, I told the boys to tell him to bring tea and scones? So he'd know it was really you? Because you tell him that a lot?
    L: You told him to come armed to the teeth and prepared to kill.
    Light: I — what? I did?
  • In the Pony POV Series, Commander Bond has a spell that makes conversations he wants to keep private sound like they're entirely in this to whoever's trying to listen in.
  • Atlas Strongest Tournament: The trope is lampshaded during a conversation between Princess Luna and her spy among the changelings who may or may not have been replaced by an actual changeling.
    Spy: The princess will save the dragon, the apples are being sorted, and... do we really have to talk like this?
    Luna: These are standard espionage codes. One must do things properly.
  • In Office Politics, L and Raito use Spy Speak to talk about their relationship troubles:
    L has used his extensive knowledge of cryptology to code in things like "Perhaps we should reconsider our relationship and consider reapplying generous amounts of sex in the butt." (Though it frustrated him greatly, even L's awesome mind could not properly work the semantics of forensic pathology and the word "fucking" together.)
    Raito raises one fine, fine brow at L when L says this, and replies, "On the other hand, perhaps the coroner wasn't thorough enough in his external examination—needle-punctures can be wildly difficult to locate and I have not yet abandoned the idea that some of these deaths could have been caused by the application of excessive insulin. Local law enforcement has, after all, been writing them off too easily on Kira."
    After Raito has left the room, L says, "That was completely uncalled for."
  • In the two-part Kim Possible fanfic "Vacation from the Norm" (part 1, part 2), Gemini's World-Wide Evil Empire (WWEE) has infiltrated Global Justice. In Part 2, Betty Director communicates this to Will Du, using a code exchange only known by the two of them, and inspired by Monty Python:
    Director: The Ministry of Silly Walks needs more Knights that Say 'Ni'.'
    Du: It's not dead, it's just... resting.
    Director: Nobody expects the... Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch!note 
  • In Once More with Feeling, Tseng and Elena/Eirene have one in the SOLDIER cafeteria (Eirene claims it's because no-one would expect a top-secret conversation to take place there; Tseng knows she just likes ogling the SOLDIERs). Tseng notes that Eirene always speaks in riddles rather than standard code, forcing him to ask additional questions to figure out what she's saying.
  • The RWBY fanfic Four Deadly Secrets has Neo and Ruby use this, in the form of sign/counter-sign when they first meet
    Neo: So breathe easy, sister.
    Ruby: Free air is easy to breathe, sister.
  • In Tempus Fugit Harry, Ron and Hermione go back in time to kill Voldemort and destroy his existing Horcruxes. They decide that when discussing their plans where they might be overheard "killing Voldemort" will be replaced by "eating sandwiches," while "destroying Horcruxes" will be replaced by "slicing bread."
  • In Two-faced Riddle Coulson phones Natasha to report on an assignment.
    "Honey, I think I'm going to be late for dinner tonight."

    Natasha immediately recognized Coulson's voice and the hidden message. He had encountered something he couldn't handle by himself. She snapped into the role of a doting wife and laughed.

    "Oh, Sweetie, that's ok. I'm embarrassed actually; I hadn't even started yet. What do you think about chicken tonight?" Chicken was the lowest level of response.

    "If it's not too much trouble, I'd really like that Zharennyi Porosenok dish we had when we visited your folks." Natasha raised an eyebrow as she heard his request. It was the name of a traditional Russian dish but to her, it was code for someone non-hostile with a particular set of supernatural abilities. Visiting her folks meant that he was coming this way with their guest possibly following along.
  • Harry Potter and the Prince of Slytherin:
    Theo: Somebody tried to kill you, and I'm just now learning about it?! I mean, I know I was at Malfoy Manor, but can't we work out a code to let me know about things like that before next summer? Like "the rooster crowed at midnight" means "somebody tried to feed Harry to a pack of feral pixies"?
    Harry: Doxies. And we'll make that a project before next summer.
  • The Killer Dame is a Parody Fic of the Voyager episode "The Killing Game", where the crew have been brainwashed to think they're members of the French Resistance in a WW2 holodeck program. B'Elanna (believing herself to be a Frenchwoman called Brigitte) is sent to meet Harry Kim, who she's told is a secret agent who will greet her with the code phrase, "B'Elanna, is that you?" The BBC personal messages include the phrases, "The long sobs of the heartbroken slashfic writers", "C/7 awaits you" and "Brannon Braga is the Prince of Darkness".
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim lampshades this in Episode 18, when two members of SMOG are communicating over walkie-talkie, and one uses code ("The fly is in the web") to state that he's located Gaz. The person he's talking to doesn't understand what he's talking about, having not read the code-sheet beforehand.
  • For the Glory of Irk: At one point, Zeke uses the following pass-phrase exchange when contacting his informant. Zim and the others think it's a bad joke, and are confused by it.
    Zeke: Eight tallers walk into a bar.
    Vero: And the bartender says: why the long face.
  • The Devil's in the details: In "Settling Debts", Peter passes along a message to Matt via Karen about busting the Vulture's sale of weapons on the Staten Island ferry as "new friends in town" that are "throwing a party" with "party favors", as well as "new toys" being sold at a "swap meet."

    Films — Animation 
  • Done in Cars 2 between Holly Shiftwell and Mater — she (incorrectly) identifies Mater as a fellow spy when he correctly answers obscure questions about the air cooling used by Volkswagen engines.
  • Parodied in Megamind: Minion's idea of "speaking in code" is making a straight statement prefaced by the word "Code".
    Minion: What are you... what are you saying? You don't need me?
    Megamind: Let me make it clear. Code: I don't need you.
    Minion: You know what? You know what? Code: I'll just pack my thing and go!
    Megamind: Code: Fine!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Avengers. When Mrs. Peel calls up Sir August from the phone booth on top of his island, she says "How Now Brown Cow" as a password to enter the base. She is apparently trying to pass as her Evil Twin clone (who was killed earlier trying to kidnap her).
  • In The Adventures of Tartu, Terence has to recite what's basically a line of poetry and hope the person says the right line that comes after. They continue this back and forth until it's completed.
  • The Andromeda Strain (1971). Dr. Charles Dutton uses a Sign/Countersign routine with a guard to enter Project Wildfire.
    Guard: Howdy.
    Dutton: Howdy Doody.
    Guard: You got the time?
    Dutton: My watch stopped at 11:46.
    Guard: Darn shame.
    Dutton: Must be the heat.
  • The Assignment (1997) is about a US naval officer who has an uncanny resemblance to Carlos the Jackal, so he's recruited in a CIA/Mossad scheme to discredit the terrorist. Another terrorist who knows the real Carlos accidentally runs into this Doppelgänger at Heathrow Airport. The protagonist tries to bluff his way out by pretending to be Carlos, but when the terrorist responds, "I need to buy a newspaper" realizes too late that it's a password to which he doesn't know the countersign — his life is only saved by the intervention of a Mossad agent who gets killed in the process. Afterwards his CIA handler mentions a similar incident where he was forced to kill a man who didn't respond with the correct countersign, and later uses this story to tell the difference between the protagonist and the real Carlos.
  • Les Barbouzes has a sign/countersign exchange in a hotel lobby:
    Francis: If the rain keeps up, the strawberries will be late.
    Doorman: But the frogs will be early.
  • Used in the The Bourne Ultimatum. It is revealed that the closing lines to the previous movie were in fact impromptu Spy Speak, and that Bourne had somehow deduced the exact meaning of the code without knowing anything about the place being talked about. The eavesdropping villains take a long time to figure it out in spite of actually knowing the secret already.
  • Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman: The pass phrase to get into Mecánico's work shop is "I want you to check my oil. You will need to go very deep." Mecánico apparently chose it because he thinks it sounds cool, and others feel awkward saying it. Santiago later tries to use it as Trust Password with the Machine Gun Woman.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, when Peggy takes Steve to the secret military lab, she has a casual conversation with an elderly lady about the weather. The elderly lady says "Wonderful weather, isn't it?" Peggy responds, "Yes, but I always carry an umbrella," which is the code phrase to signal that she is headed to the lab.
  • Attempted during the first act of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where after Nick Fury sneaks into Steve's apartment, he tries to lead in a conversation by saying his (nonexistent) wife kicked him out and he "needed a place to crash". After Nick silently relays through text on his phone that people are secretly listening to them as S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised, the two attempt to exchange further information disguised as a mundane conversation. Then Fury is abruptly blasted down by a sniper.
  • In the Cheng Pei-Pei movie That Fiery Girl, members of a criminal clan use a conversation to identify each other:
    "How high is the sky?"
    "How deep is the ocean?"
    "The ocean is 66 feet deep."
    "The sky is 33 stories high."
  • Clear and Present Danger: Spy Speak pervades the film. "Coffee" means cocaine. The special forces soldiers refer to planting a bomb and detonating it as "The chicken is in the pot." — "Cook it." respectively. And so on by many characters. The President starts the whole mess with "The course of action I'd suggest is a course of action I can't suggest." This contrasts his Title Drop in the same scene, and his hypocrisy is called out later in the film.
    Cutter: He [the president] can't be clear when clarity is exactly what he wants to avoid.
  • The Guns of Navarone. During radio communication, the team's command base uses coded language to send information.
    "High Flight reports Indians on warpath in your territory." [Aerial reconnaissance has seen German naval units in your vicinity.]
  • Parodied in Hot Shots! Part Deux. The radio controller is trying to warn the good guys that enemies are about to attack, using phrases like "The vultures are circling the carcass", "The pit bull is out of the cage", "The Crips are raiding the liquor store". The guy on the other end has no idea what he's talking about. The first phrase used is "Indians on the warpath in your area." This line (and the three prior lines) are a Shout-Out to a similar scene in The Guns of Navarone which used almost identical dialogue.

  • Parodied in International Lady, when British agent Reggie Oliver (Basil Rathbone) does not understand the American slang used by FBI agents:
    Hanley: This is Rah-Rah Sewell, one of our best fullbacks. Learning to be a dick. Inspector Oliver, Scotland Yard.
    Sewell: Scotland Yard — Gee, that sort of sends me wacky. Well, the Brain said PDQ. Better breeze in.
    Oliver: ... He talks in code, doesn't he?
  • Parodied in The Ipcress File. At the beginning of the movie, Harry is spying on a building and reads out an innocuous sounding list, which we automatically assume is code — but it isn't, and what he's watching really is that innocuous.
  • James Bond does a lot of this.
    • In For Your Eyes Only, meeting a contact at a ski resort, they apparently comment on the quality of the piste in comparison to other resorts.
    • From Russia with Love:
      Agent A: Can I borrow a match?
      Agent B: I use a lighter.
      Agent A: That's better still.
      Agent B: Until they go wrong.
    • Half-parodied in GoldenEye:
      Bond: In London, April's a Spring month.
      Jack Wade: Oh yeah? And what are you, the weatherman? I mean, for crying out loud... another stiff-ass Brit, with your secret codes and your passwords. One of these days you guys are gonna learn just to drop it.
      [Bond then holds him at gunpoint until he gives the correct response before introducing himself]
    • A straight example in Diamonds Are Forever. When Tiffany Case arrives at the circus to pick up the diamonds, the CIA agent alerts everyone.
      Agent: This is Quarterback. Operation Passover, commence. Quarterback to Tight End. Operation Passover, commence.
    • Lampshaded in The World Is Not Enough:
      Christmas Jones: Do you wanna put that in English for those of us who don't speak spy?
    • You Only Live Twice
      • When James Bond meets with his Japanese contact he gives her the Sign "I love you" to identify himself to her. She doesn't give him a Countersign to verify that she is his contact, which causes him to be suspicious of her. Later on Tiger Tanaka gives him the Countersign, which causes Bond to trust him.
      • While Bond is flying "Little Nellie", he's attacked by four SPECTRE helicopters. After destroying them he calls Tiger Tanaka and tells him what happened in Metaphor form.
        James Bond: Little Nellie got a hot reception. Four big shots made improper advances towards her. But she defended her honor with great success.
    • Averted in No Time to Die when Bond makes contact with Palmona, who just tells him he's late and hauls Bond into a wine cellar so he can change into his tuxedo. Bond then points out they're supposed to discuss "Something about a hat, Paris?"
  • J-Men Forever. The J-Men are convinced the rock 'n' roll being broadcasted by the evil Lightning Bug is some kind of spy code and assign their crafty cryptographers to breaking it.
    Codebreaker: Da doo run run... what can that mean?
  • John Wick:
    • If you need corpses removed and their blood cleaned from the walls, you call Charlie and make a "dinner reservation for [x]", [x] being the number of bodies that need disposal.
    • "Noise complaint" is a code the underworld uses for shootings in off-limits areas, as happens when Miss Perkins tries to kill John in his Continental room to cash in on Viggo's bounty.
    • This exchange as John speaks to the bouncer at the Red Circle is him asking for a read on how many guards Viggo has inside.
      John Wick: [points a gun at Francis' head] Hello, Francis.
      Francis: Mr. Wick.
      John Wick: [in Russian] You've lost weight.
      Francis: [in Russian] Over sixty pounds. [interpreted as 27 kilograms]
      John Wick: [in Russian] Yeah? Impressive.
      Francis: Are you here on business, sir?
      John Wick: Afraid so, Francis.
    • In John Wick: Chapter 2, the entirety of the scene in the Rome Continental where John is obtaining guns from the Sommelier, as they plan for John's 'party' (code for "assassination followed by a likely bloody exfiltration"). A "tasting" means that a buyer is ready to shop. Something "robust, precise" can refer to a custom-made AR-15 assault rifle. Something "big, bold" can refer to the Benelli M4 Shotgun. Though, amusingly, even he is caught off-guard when John refers to bladed weaponry as "dessert", which ends up being an assortment of freshly sharpened steel knives.
    • The tailor who creates John's suit for the event also uses this language, asking John if this is a "formal occasion" (one-shot one-kill) or a "social affair" (multiple targets).
  • Jumpin' Jack Flash "Dogs barking. Can't fly without umbrella."
  • Almost every dialogue in The Limits of Control is made about this trope.
  • Subverted hilariously in Logan Lucky. Joe Bang (Daniel Craig, who knows his Spy Speak) is visited in prison by his brothers; he tells them to go to "the bear in the woods" and collect the "bag" for Joe. The brothers go to the woods, they meet a man in a bear costume, and he gives them a bag.
  • In The Longest Day, the Free French use the phrase "Jean has a long moustache" as the signal for "The invasion will come tomorrow, the Resistance shall begin with the preparations" (probably Truth in Television). Cue the mayor of Colleville (Bourvil) dancing around the radio and shouting "Jean has a long moustache... Jean has a long moustache!", before running outside to blow up some telephone lines. In fact, those radio transmissions were full of dozens of messages like that every night. Some of them were communiques to various resistance cells, and others were sheer gibberish sent over the airwaves to drive any Germans listening on that frequency nuts.
  • Parodied in The Man Who Knew Too Little, where it is a case of One Dialogue, Two Conversations. The British spymaster asks the protagonist whether the girl was "taken to the bathroom" and "flushed" (code for assassination and disposal of the body), while the protagonist (who doesn't know that he has been mistaken for a spy) fails to recognize this as code. He informs the spymaster that "She went to the loo... by herself", which the spymaster erroneously interprets as meaning "suicide".
  • In the Colombian film Maria Full of Grace Maria is offered a one-time gig as a drug mule. As recruiter Franklin describes the assignment, she is going to take a trip to New Jersey with a bunch of "film rolls", be picked up and taken to a safe location where "the films will be developed" i.e. they will wait out for her to pass the heroin-filled pellets she swallowed. All 62 of them. She does get a "Shame If Something Happened to your family" speech in case the pellets don't make it.
  • Max Manus. A member of La Résistance who moves his location every night tells Max to contact him by asking at a bakery for a Turkish pretzel. Max asks what they should do if they're given a Turkish pretzel instead, and is told there's no such thing, which is immediately disputed by the others.
  • Alec and the Baron's cryptic exchange about mice and elephants in Missile X: The Neutron Bomb Incident.
  • Towards the beginning of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Ethan walks into a record store and receives his mission by exchanging an extended sign/countersign sequence with the cashier disguised as a conversation about a particular jazz record. The covert nature of this conversation is promptly blown sky-high by the cashier saying Ethan's full name, but since the bad guys are already on to him this has negligible impact on the plot.
  • In Nick Fury, the TV movie:
    Nick Fury: Beauty is trust and trust is beauty. That's all ye on this Earth know and all ye need to know.
    Gail Runciter: Is that part of the recognition code?
    Nick Fury: No, I just felt like saying it.
  • In one of The Pink Panther movies, Inspector Clouseau asks Chief Inspector Dreyfus what his code name is. The Chief Inspector sputters out that he doesn't have one. Inspector Clouseau, satisfied, replies that only the REAL Chief Inspector Dreyfus would know he doesn't have a code name.
  • In Léon a.k.a. The Professional, he calls himself a "Cleaner", instead of "Assassin" or "Hitman". So someone might ask him to "clean" someone, rather than "kill" them. That's actually a Shout-Out to Nikita, where Jean Reno played the "cleaner" i.e. a character who specialized in destroying the evidence and disposing of bodies after the hit.
  • Quest of the Delta Knights: The Delta Knights use Sign/Countersign to identify each other.
  • Ronin (1998) is full of this (no surprise that David Mamet co-wrote the screenplay), as per the opening exchange between Vincent and Sam:
    Sam: So, are you labor or management?
    Vincent: If I was management, I would not offer you a cigarette!
  • Partially parodied in The Saint:
    Simon: To Spider: You've got the recipe, where's my dough?
    Tretiak: To Human Fly: Recipe incomplete. Cake won't rise. Hence, no dough.
  • The Shadow: The Shadow’s agents use this code sign to establish to each other that they’re working for him:
    "The sun is shining..."
    "but the ice is slippery."
  • In the epic clown movie Shakes the Clown, evil clown Binky is informed of his successful drug purchase by one of his henchmen with, "The dolphins are in the jacuzzi."
  • In Signe Furax, an agent is ordered to enter a shop at a specified address and order lamb leg. He dutifully enters a music shop and asks for a lamb leg; the tenant immediately produces one from under his desk. A clue is written on the bone of the leg. Utterly inconspicuous.
  • In A Song Is Born, Hobart Frisbee uses his newfound grasp of hep cat language to communicate his escape plan to the musicians near the end.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had a variant on this. Spock and Kirk, discussing repair estimates to the Enterprise, used a code that substituted days for hours. This made Khan (who was eavesdropping on the conversation) believe Kirk's ship was hopelessly crippled.
  • Done in a simple yet effective manner in Tenet: the code is just one word, "Tenet", combined with a simple hand gesture. This allows agents to identify each other by slipping the word into a seemingly innocuous sentence that would not seem strange if heard by the wrong person.
  • Top Secret!. Used on multiple occasions by characters as a Sign/Countersign.
    Agent Cedric: Do you know any good white basketball players?
    Blind Man: There are no good white basketball players, my friend.

    Hillary: Who do you favor in the Virginia Slims Tournament?
    Blind Man: In women's tennis, I always root against the heterosexual.

    Hillary: My father is Dr. Paul Flammond.
    Bookstore Owner: I'm sorry. I don't know a Dr. Flammond.
    Hillary: He told me you may have a book of Swedish poems by Von Brieson.
    Bookstore Owner: So you are Hillary Flammond!
  • In The Tuxedo, when Jimmy is contacted by Del, who assumes he's the Bond Expy Clark Devlin, she tells him to meet her in a park. She will be wearing a beige business suit, and he's supposed to say "Nice rack" with the counter-sign being "I forgot my bra." While Del is saying that with a tired expression, a couple of nerdy guys are snickering in the background. Naturally, when Jimmy goes to the park, he walks up to a woman in a business suit and says the code phrase, while raising his eyebrows suggestively. She slaps him and goes to find the nearest cop. Jimmy then gets a call from Del to let him know that the meeting place and time have been changed.
  • Zeppelin (1971). The protagonist is a British officer of German descent who pretends to defect to the other side. Once in Germany, he goes into a tailor shop and asks for "blue bunting". The tailor doesn't know what he's talking about. In some confusion he leaves, then abruptly re-enters the shop and says, "Bunting blue!" The tailor snaps back in English, "It's about time; I've been waiting for you for weeks!"

  • Dave Barry does this when his directions to a point of interest in Sweden ends with "tell the man standing on the corner that the oyster owns a fine wristwatch. He'll know what to do."
  • Vernor Vinge's short story "Run Bookworm Run" takes this to an extreme:
    Super-intelligent chimpanzee: Why does the goodwife like Dutch Elm Disease for tea?
    Ordinary-looking section of wall: I don't know, I just work here.
    Super-intelligent chimpanzee: Well, find out before her husband does.
This is repeated over thousands of miles of such walls, each with different codes.
  • Kim from Kipling has an actually smart one. You must stop before a few specific words. You must insert those words into innocent small talk, then pause before the word. Your partner must do the same with another word. "It was a nice wedding. The bride had that beautiful necklace with the great... turquoise." "Oh, how expensive. How was the food? Was there... tarkeean?"
  • Robert A. Heinlein
    • In the short story "Methuselah's Children", the members of the Howard Families use a Sign/Countersign routine to verify each other's identities:
    "Life is short."
    "But the years are long."
    "Not 'While the Evil Days Come Not.'"
    • In his short story "Free Men", members of an underground guerilla group have a Sign/Countersign system to identify themselves to another such group.
    "We're looking for Mabel."
    "Nobody here by that name."
    "Sorry. We must have made a mistake. Chilly out. The nights are getting longer."
    "They'll get shorter by and by."
    "We've got to think so, anyhow."
  • In Freakonomics, the author tells how the Ku Klux Klan used this. A klansman who went to another city and was looking for other klansmen (in a bar, for example) would ask people "Do you know a Mr. Ayak?" (=Are You A Klansman?) The answer he expected would be "Yes, and I also know a Mr. Akai." (= A Klansman Am I.) They also used many codewords by simply substituting Kl at the beginning of words, like Kloran (from Quran) for their ritual book. Which tended to sound pretty silly.
  • Whenever Harry Dresden has to call the Wardens (which, at that point, he's already in deep shit), he has to do several sign-countersign routines in quick succession for the Wardens to confirm that it is, in fact, Harry. Despite realizing the necessity of it all, it still bugs the crap out of him.
  • Lampshaded in Manning Coles' Drink To Yesterday when agent Tommy Hambledon remarks to the much younger and more naive Michael Kingston/Bill Saunders:
    "Do get out of your head these ideas about elaborate plans which are so popular in fiction. You know: At eight forty-four and one half precisely you will walk past the automatic weighing-machine on the down platform, and a man in a pale-blue Homburg hat will pass you and murmur either 'Catfish,' 'Plaice' or 'Cod,' or 'Salmon.' 'Catfish' means the courier is a large savage man armed to the teeth who never sleeps, with an escort of eight of the Prussian Guard so alert that they take it in turns to breathe. That's to let you know it's going to be a little bit difficult. 'Plaice' means that he will have a girl friend with him, so look out for squalls. That's rather a good one, pass the beer. 'Cod' means that, though he travels alone, he is a dangerous homicidal maniac who is quite sane till anybody touches his luggage, when a violent complex is suddenly released and he is possessed with a passion for peritoneotomy—"
    "What's that?"
    "What Jack the Ripper did. 'Salmon' means that he is a weak little man suffering from incipient sleeping-sickness. Salmon is never served up on our job."
  • In The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod, this is how Ross Stewart exchanges briefcases with his Krassnian contact; a brief sign/countersign about cigarettes followed by a complete non sequitur just to be on the safe side.
  • In Peter Benchley's Q Clearance, a Soviet spy in Washington DC is supposed to receive a package from a courier. He and his handler try to come up with the appropriate Spy Speak to prove his bona fides. The spy considers the handler's dialog suggestion impossibly polite for the urban neighborhood:
    Teal: Your contact is in a phone booth on the corner.
    Pym: OK, I'll go get the package from him.
    Teal: Wait! How will he know it's you?
    Pym: I'll tell him who I am and ask for it.
    Teal: No, no! Think, man! Craft!... you say, "Is this phone out of order?" He'll say, "No, but I'm waiting for a call." You say, "I'll find another phone then."
    Pym: [thinking] In this neighborhood? It'll be more like "Is this phone broke?" "The fuck's it to you?" "I gotta make a fuckin' call." "You touch that fuckin' phone, I'll break all your fuckin' fingers."
  • Inverted in Polish s-f novel Paradyzja by Janusz Zajdel. The novel depicts a totalitarian state whose citizens use "koalang" (associative-allusive language) to mask anything that might be considered subversive by the secret police, especially when speaking in public, for example:
    Man: The gray angel entered my dreams uncannily (A policeman infiltrated my home thinking I'm asleep)
    Girl: Has emptiness filled the shard of space? (Did he take something?)
    Man: Though a ferret past in the time extended, my hand's voice curtain was left untouched. But hyena's longing still strong remain. (Even though he was searching for a long time, he didn't find my communication jammer. But it's likely the bastard will return soon).
  • In the second book of The Babysitters Club, the girls are worried about the possibility of a crook from the news (or any crook for that matter) showing up while they're on the job and how suspicious it would look for them to call the police so they come up with the following: The girl who thinks there's something up calls up a friend and asks "Have you found my red ribbon?" The person receiving the call responds "No; the blue one." which is followed by "Oh; that's okay." if the caller isn't sure there's trouble or "Now I'm gonna get it." to signify "I'm in deep trouble; call the police ASAP!"
  • Often in the David Garnett series by Clive Egleton, the main character would be having an innocuous discussion with someone he's apparently met at random, only for it to be revealed they're members of La Résistance when they change subject, but with no mention of what words of the conversation were the sign/countersign.
  • In Lawrence Block's Tanners Twelve Swingers Evan has to go through this to enter an apparently-closed cafe in Krakow.
    Evan: My friend and I are fond of roasted partridge and understand it is obtainable here.
    Woman: It is out of season.
    Evan: Some game is always in season.
    Woman: One tires of game.
    Evan: One cannot afford to tire of the game.
  • In a Nancy Drew book, the gang finds a way to make perfectly normal conversations actually be a warning—“You’re being watched”, etc.
  • Address Unknown: Max's friend Martin gets ever more involved with the rising Nazi party, to the point where he refuses to shelter Max's sister from the Nazis coming to kill her. From then on, every letter Max sends to Martin contains numbers (the weight of a relative's newborns) or colors (Max is an art dealer), in ways so obvious they must be a code, leading to the Nazis eventually arresting and murdering Martin as a traitor for corresponding with a Jew (Martin is entirely aware of what Max is doing, but his protests of innocence fall on deaf ears). The title refers to the final letter, sent back to Max because the man it was addressed to is no longer living there (or living at all).
  • In The Belgariad, the Nadrak Yarblek gets into the royal palace in Boktor by telling a member of the Drasnian Intelligence that "the salmon is running late". The second time he uses this phrase, the Drasnian spy remarks to the Queen that he "takes a very keen interest in the salmon runs".
  • In Chance And Choices Adventures, the Williams family and their allies have a system of knocks as a Trust Password when entering a door into a safe area. The Underground Railroad, who appears at the end of book three and into book four, also uses coded communication.
  • A brief exchange shows up in Ryan Verse's book Clear and Present Danger
    Agent: It may rain today.
    CIA: If so, I have a coat.
    Agent: A cold rain, perhaps.
    CIA: The coat has a liner.
The agent then remarks that it actually is supposed to rain later, complimenting whoever it was that came up with that code.
  • Subverted in, of all places, the Conan the Barbarian novel "Hour of the Dragon". Conan attempts to sneak into a Stygian temple disguised as a pilgrim, but realizes that the pilgrims must give a secret hand signal to the temple guard to gain entrance. Upon realizing this, Conan, being Conan, just kills the guard and walks in anyway.
  • In the Cthulhu Mythos story Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names, by Jay Lake, La Résistance on an Earth conquered by the Old Ones imitate the Dagon and Silver Twilight cults to hide their activities, with the sign/countersign taken from their rituals.
    "Long have we dwelt in wonder and glory."
    "Such bright and risen days these are."
  • The Dark Tower: The gang of Greys that kidnap Jake in The Waste Lands use a sign-countersign kind of password for entering their hideout.
  • In the first book of Detectives in Togas, the boy Rufus is in prison and about to be executed, but manages to send a strange message to the others: "Rip off the red wolf's sheep's clothing!" He's talking about the "seer" Lukos (Greek for "wolf"), whose name is written in red on his house, who's the Big Bad and framed Rufus. Lukos is really the bald ex-consul Tellus, who wears a wig when playing Lukos.
  • Brilliantly parodied in the Discworld book Guards! Guards!: a secret cultist goes through a length of sign countersign for a password, only to find that he's talking to a different secret cult, when he gets some of it confused. Especially since the password is four different sign/countersign pairs, and these two unrelated secret societies which coincidentally have headquarters on the same street, have identical sign/countersign pairs for the first three exchanges.
    "Surely the cagéd whale knows nothing of the mighty depths."
    "Nope, bean soup it is."
  • The Eisenhorn novels feature an extensive code language called Glossia used by Inquisitor Eisenhorn and his Acolytes, which is completely internally consistent and can be understood by the readers if they're paying attention. A simple example is "Thorn wishes Talon", which means that Thorn (Eisenhorn) is requesting a face-to-face meeting with Ravenor (Talon).
  • The "metaphor" variant is used in A Game of Thrones, when one of the young Stark children overhears two spymasters comparing notes on the goings on in the court and debating how to proceed with their individual schemes. Unfortunately, the child in question doesn't have the context to understand what they are talking about (while the reader has only some context at that point), so none of the "good guys" are able to benefit from the inside info this could have provided.
  • La Résistance fighters on Gereon in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Traitor had a sign/countersign/duress code system. When trying to make contact with allies, the person in the safehouse asks, "How is Gereon?", then the resistance member responds with "Gereon lives." The phrases "Despite their efforts" indicates safety, whereas "Even though it dies" indicates that the response is under duress, i.e., a Chaos soldier has already found them.
  • The Hardy Boys Casefiles, "Hostages of Hate," had two good instances of this:
    "The day dawned most promisingly."
    "Like a new world."

    "We bring tidings of the new day!"
    "Then hurry the dawn!"
  • Subverted in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where the Muggle character Frank Bryce assumes that two men (Voldemort and Pettigrew) discussing wizards, witches, Quidditch and the Ministry of Magic are using code, but they actually mean exactly what they say. (Actually assigning the terms "Muggles", "Wizards", and "Ministry" a one-to-one relationship with gangs or government branches yields some really convoluted politics.)
  • Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series: During "The Mule", when Captain Pritcher meets with a fellow member of the Democratic Underground Party, they go through a sign/countersign routine to identify themselves.
    The captain mumbled, "I come from Miran."
    The man returned the gambit, grimly. "Miran is early this year."
    The captain said, "No earlier than last year."
  • Also parodied in John Dies at the End:
    "Dave? This is John. Your pimp says bring the crack shipment tonight, or he'll be forced to stick you. Meet him where we buried the Korean whore. The one without the goatee."
    That was code. It meant "Come to my place as soon as you can, it's important." Code, you know, in case the phone was bugged.
    "John, it's three in the—"
    "—Oh, and don't forget, tomorrow is the day we kill the President."
    He was gone. That last part was code for, "Stop and pick me up some cigarettes on the way."
  • There's a Larry Niven story of humanity's first contact with aliens, when the Kzin attack the "unarmed" starship Angel's Pencil. Having leaked the news out of ARM HQ, the protagonists on Earth are discussing this: "So, you think Angel sliced the bread with the pencil?" says one, while thinking that it's difficult to communicate when you're making up your code as you go.
  • In the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery Murder Must Advertise, the drug ring that Inspector Parker is investigating uses Nutrax, a brand of pills, as a password. It can be written on a note, worked into casual conversation or printed on something you are carrying — doesn't matter. Give the password in any form, and they'll hand you a package of drugs. This gets a minor character in trouble halfway through the book, as he unwittingly quotes the product's slogan and half a pound of high-grade cocaïne is slipped into his pocket.
  • In Michael Innes' From London Far the main character absently quotes a line or two of verse in a tobacconist's. When the clerk gives him a funny look he says simply "London: a Poem." and the clerk, who thinks he said "London's goin'," replies "Rotterdam's gone" and allows him entry to what turns out to be a base of operations for some rather high-class art smugglers/thieves.
  • In Mr. Standfast, the German spy ring uses the closing lines of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Wanderer's Nightsong" ("The little birds in the forest are silent." / "Wait, soon you will rest too.") as their sign and countersign. The first time the hero hears it, he narrates that it is
    Clearly some kind of password, for sane men don't talk about little birds in that kind of situation.
  • Spoofed in Rebel Dream. The Insiders don't actually use sign/countersign methods, preferring to stick to known members and use Jedi and YVH droids to screen for infiltrators. This doesn't stop Kell from making up his own.
    "No countersign. What kind of holodrama is this, anyway?"
  • The Partners in Crime short story "Blind Man's Bluff" has an improvised metaphor code, as Tommy manages to tell Tuppence that she should phone Albert and get him to follow them when they leave the Blitz Hotel with their new clients, while apparently telling her to place an order with the hotel restaurant for tomorrow's dinner.
  • In The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks, Norman, realizing the weirdness of his home situation, comes up with the idea of using code words such as "ice cream" for "sock", "chocolate" for "dirty", "cat" for "plant", etc. A nosy girl overhears this and asks him about why his cats eat so much ice cream.
  • Subverted in the Red Room series as the agents use magic so anyone listening in only hears normals conversations. Protagonist Derek says that plenty of agents still try to use spy speak for tradition, though, which he finds irritating.
  • In Rose of Rapture the Yorkist heroine, Isabella, keeps getting letters from Margaret Beaufort, who she hardly knows. She realizes the letters contain coded messages for her husband, who is a friend of Margaret's son, Henry Tudor and they are plotting against Edward IV.
  • V.F.D. in A Series of Unfortunate Events uses the "sign/countersign" form for "volunteers" to identify each other; for instance, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize this was a sad occasion" is answered with "The world is quiet here."
  • 1632: Harry Lefferts sets up a type 3 scenario with a contact in Italy with the sign "I am Romulus." and the countersign "I am Vulcan. Live long and prosper." Several people give him guff for his blatant fanboyism, until he points out that anyone in the 17th century who hasn't been told the countersign will, by virtue of knowing a lot about Roman myth and nothing about Star Trek, assume that Romulus is meeting Remus. Of course, Lefferts is also a thoroughbred West Virginia hillbilly, and while he has gotten some lessons from real pros, most of his ideas about spycraft come from films.
  • Several variations on these types of code show up in Timothy Zahn's Star Wars novels, most prominently in The Thrawn Trilogy.
    • In one case, Han and Leia are discussing Admiral Ackbar's political situation, disguising it by talking about his family life (although it's not perfect since, as Han points out, it was an improvised code and they really ought to have set it up in advance). In the annotated edition, Zahn relates how this was inspired by a discussion he himself had with a few friends while first writing the novel. In the middle of a restaurant full of Star Wars fans, and under strict orders not to reveal that he was working on a new novel, he was forced to talk around the identities of his characters (such as using "Brother" and "Sister" for Luke and Leia).
    • Another version, in the same novel, involves an open comm channel between the Falcon and some escort starfighters. Han orders the pilots to use the Cracken Twist, which causes them to move into a new escort formation, then transmits some rendezvous coordinates. He then explains to Leia that the formation is just window dressing; the "Cracken Twist" is really an instruction to transpose the coordinates to reach their real destination.
    • In Vision of the Future Han Solo, suspecting that his communications were being monitored by Imperial ships, sent a message to Lando Calrissian to rendezvous with him "two systems rimward from where you had no choice". In other words, two systems towards the galactic rim from Bespin, where Lando was forced to hand Han and Leia over to Vader. (Alluding to his line, "Sorry, Han, but I had no choice.") Later in the same novel, General bel Iblis issues a recall order to two Rogue Squadron pilots (who are operating anonymously) reading simply "This is father. All is forgiven; come home at once."
  • In Star Trek: Cold Equations, Thot Raas of the Breen has this to say in a transmission to his superior: ‘At sunset, the weevil digs in the grain. Raptors circle the hollow. The steed stands in the forest. The farmer must ring the bell before dark.’
  • The Star Trek novel "Enemy Unseen" dealt with an murderous imposter who could mimic any of the crew. In order to protect their key witness, Captain Kirk gives the security guards protecting the witness orders to demand anyone (including himself) who wishes to see the "prisoner" respond to the statement "'Tis a wee bit early for playing poker, is it not sir?" Anyone who doesn't respond immediately with "It's later than you think," is to be stunned and taken into custody.
  • In The Tale Of Gurion Thricebound The Raven's Organization uses signs and countersigns.
    The Cuckoo: Who goes before?
    The Fox: The twenty-four gazelles.
    The Cuckoo: And who follows after?
    The Spark: The uncaged flocks, free to fly.
  • The Tim Powers novel Declare involves lots of code phrases and recognition exchanges, some of which turn out to have occult significance.
  • In Toliver's Secret, Ellen's grandfather instructs her to deliver the message to his friend, Mr. Shannon, by stating that she has a present for his birthday. She uses this as a cover story for why she's carrying around a loaf of bread, telling the British soldiers she travels with that it's a birthday gift for an old man.
  • Villains by Necessity: Arcie tries to do this at a bakery that fading thief's sign indicated was a local thieves guild front, only to find that thanks to all the whitewashing going on, it now really is just a bakery. So he buys some donuts and moves on.
  • In one of The Wheel of Time books, Taim sends Rand a note that reads, "I picked that bush myself. A small bush, and thorny, but a good number of berries nonetheless." It's an extended metaphor. The "bush" is the Two Rivers, the backwater region where Rand grew up. "Berries" are men with the potential to channel. "Small" and "thorny" mean exactly what they look like.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Polish spy drama Cult Classic Stawka Większa Niż Życie has this famous exchange: "The best chestnuts are [to be found] on Pigalle Square." "Susan only likes them in the autumn."
  • The Crown uses the phrase is "Hyde Park Corner" which is used to inform officials of George VI's death without it leaking to the press. As the new Queen is currently in Africa on a safari with limited phone access there's a serious rush to contact her before she learns the news via the media.
  • In an episode of The Office, (Season 9, "A.A.R.M.") Dwight installs unnecessary security measures at Dunder Mifflin including a scripted exchange that the employees must have with the receptionist, Erin, in order to be let through the door, even though Erin can clearly see the employee through the glass.
    Erin: The tea in Nepal is very hot.
    Kevin: But the coffee in Peru is much hotter.
  • This Armstrong and Miller sketch was set in a tanning salon, which used far too obvious Spy Speak, such as "I'd like to use a sunbed" and "Do you do spray tanning" as their codewords, leading to some very confused people.
  • Parodied in the series Adderly: supervisor Greenspan, convinced his office is bugged, demands that his staff speak entirely in convoluted code-phrases (even when discussing whether they want sugar in their coffee). Adderly replies with an annoyed, "Dead parrots rarely sing."; Greenspan pulls out his code book and laboriously translates this, word by word, to mean, "This... conversation... is... ridiculous."
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
    • Parodied in episode 3:
      Skye: Skipper to Bravo. I got eyes on Top Dog. The Eagle is landing.
      Simmons: What are you doing?
      Skye: Uh, sorry. I... I dunno. I see Quinn, I'm gonna go talk to him.
    • Played straight in "T.A.H.I.T.I.". When the team arrives at the Guest House facility, the guards greet them with "How was the ride from Istanbul?" None of them know the countersign, it's not in any of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s databases, and the guards refuse to say anything else. So, the team ends up having to fight their way in.
  • Used quite a bit in 'Allo 'Allo!.
    • René repeatedly gets told codewords, which are generally misused, forgotten, given to the wrong person, and such. Commonly he'll skip straight past them with a line like "I know it's you, you old fool, now just give me the batteries."
    • A classic example in episode 1 had the other person unable to deliver the line (asking for matches), as his cigarette is lit before he can say anything. Not only that, but René couldn't give the correct response ("I don't have any matches") as he had been given a box of them only a minute earlier by Lieutenant Gruber. And just to top it off, René ends up Mistaken for Gay.
      "Is he one of us?"
      "No, he's one of them!"
    • The code-talk over the radio is actually analyzed by the Gestapo at one point and found to make a twisted sort of sense.
    • Officer Crabtree was supposed to bring René some dynamite, hidden in his trousers. He would say the line to René "You may notice I am walking very gingerly." But before he can get there, Lieutenant Gruber comes into the cafe and has this exchange with René:
      Lieutenant Gruber: "You may notice I am walking very gingerly."note 
      René Artois: "Please do not tell me you have dynamite in your trousers."
      Lieutenant Gruber: "Do not believe everything you hear, René."
    • One time, René had the radio behind the bar in the cafe, and it started spouting code phrases intended for La Résistance members. Lieutenant Gruber gets suspicious, and asks where the nonsensical phrases like "Pierre enjoys riding his new bicycle" are coming from. René claims that he was the one speaking. That makes René all the more horrified when the next phrase emitted from the radio is "Listen very carefully. Meet me behind the woodshed at one o'clock," which Lieutenant Gruber mistakes for an overture for a homosexual tryst.
  • On The Amazing Race, one challenge taking place in Washington, D.C. had the racers exchanging a briefcase with a spy after exchanging code phrases. Apparently, the producers liked it because they did it again in a later season.
  • Babylon 5:
  • The Benny Hill Show
    • There's a sketch in which Hill is sitting on a park bench between two Spy Speakers. Faced with their "bizarre" code phrases, he would inject things like "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts."
    • That's not the only sketch making fun of Spy Speak; there's also an extended exchange in another spoof with a trio of spies in Istanbul exchanging increasingly nonsensical code phrases, some with Accidental Innuendo.
    • Famous example:
      Challenge: You will never find hairs on a duck egg, but you'll always find hairs on an ape.
      Response: It is only the hairs on a gooseberry that stop it from being a grape.
  • An early episode of Benson had a revolutionary attempt to contact another at a party using this method. However, he talks to Benson by mistake and Benson is not in on the code.
    Revolutionary: The road has many turns.
    Benson: Hmm?
    Revolutionary: The road has many turns.
    Benson: Well, drive carefully.
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie:
    • In one sketch, a hapless customer encounters a Cloudcuckoolander shopkeeper who turns out to be a spy whose secret activation code phrase is... "Good morning". It doesn't work out very well.
    • Also hilariously Averted in the "Tony and Control" sketches, which feature two high-ranking intelligence officials who speak in simple naive terms that you could almost use if talking to a three-year-old.
      Tony: Do you remember we decided to put a tail on the new Cultural Attache at the Russian Embassy?
      Control: Yes, I do remember. I remember the very day we talked about it. We thought he might be a spy working for the KGB, and I said, "Let's follow him around and see if he does anything that might look suspicious."
  • Breaking Bad: Ed the Disappearer, who helps criminals make a new untraceable identity somewhere else in the country, works as a vacuum cleaner repairman as his cover, and only reveals his other service to those who know the code phrase: requesting a "new dust filter for my Hoover Max Extract Pressure Pro model 60" (the trick being that the Hoover Max Extract Pressure Pro doesn't have a dust filter, so it would be very unlikely for a layman to actually request it). At one point, Jesse struggles to remember the exact passcode but Ed, eventually, cuts him a break since he at least knew most of it and already requested a meet-up months prior.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Xander sends Willow a text message in code that either means he's about to score or he's being attacked by a demon; with Xander's luck, they realize it has to be the latter.
    • Agents of the covert military demon-fighting unit The Initiative speak this way, causing the Scoobies to dub it "Riley Speak" (after Buffy's Initiative boyfriend Riley Finn) whenever they use such codes themselves as opposed to their usual Buffy Speak.
  • Burn Notice
    • Lampshaded when Michael has to leave a message for the man he was supposed to meet but is called away. He mentions that spy speak is only successful when the other party can figure out what the message means, otherwise you're just wasting everyone's time. Fortunately, the other man does figure out that "John 3:14" written on the sidewalk in chalk means "St. John's Cathedral at 3:14pm."
    • Lampshaded a second time when Michael realizes his phone is bugged. He ties up the surveillance team by calling random phone numbers and saying nonsensical things to whoever picks up, counting on the fact that the surveillance team will assume that he's relaying information in code and will waste hours of time trying to figure out what he's relaying.
    • Another episode has Michael getting information from his team, which is disguised as a random conversation. Maddie rebuffs Jesse's offer to explain and translate the code herself:
      "Mr. Vane means there's a weather vane. Gray hair means a gray roof, and presidential refers to a white house."
    • Maddie also had a code for Michael and his brother, which told them that their father was in a drunken rage again.
  • Castle: In one episode, the victim seems to have been a spy (it's eventually revealed he was playing a spy-themed LARP, but same thing), and they find a pen among his possessions that tells them a meeting place and code phrase and response "Aren't you Steve's friend?" "No, Steve is my brother." Castle picks out a woman and gives her the first line, but she utterly fails to give the response, leading him to press her further. Then a man comes up to Castle and gives the first phrase.
  • Chernobyl: When Ulana Khomyuk can't get through to the power plant in Chernobyl, she calls a physicist she knows in Moscow to get information about what's happening. Knowing that the phones are almost certainly being monitored by the KGB they discuss the "hot weather" and a friend who's flying in with their children. The names and ages of the "children" are actually codes for elements on the periodic table, which is how Khomyuk works out that they're dumping sand and boron in an attempt to put out the fire.
  • An episode of Chuck has Big Mike come up with a panic code word for the Black Friday sale at the Buy More ("Pineapple"). When an associate utters it, everyone is supposed to quickly get people out of the store. Naturally, this becomes useful when a bad guy has Chuck at gunpoint and is trying to get him out of the store.
  • A few episodes of The Cosby Show see the adults playing team-based trick-taking card games; they attempt to signal each other by using various forms of spy speak. Some, like Cliff's father Russell's, are transparent—"When I was a kid, we used to go down and play at the baseball diamond." Cliff, in a response to this, comes up with ridiculously complicated codes: for instance, he might use "pump" to indicate "heart," because a heart pumps blood. Their wives, however, are the true masters of the art—they have rapid-fire conversations which contain information so well hidden that their husbands are left completely fooled.
  • Danger Man: John Drake is disgusted to be given some nonsensical Spy Speak to identify himself to a contact. Sitting in the cafe where he's to rendezvous he spots an old friend and the two chat away for a few minutes before the friend — a man Drake has known most of his adult life — gives the password. They both have a good laugh over the absurdity of giving identifying passwords to two men who know each other.
  • Dragnet has this in episodes that usually involve illegal bookmaking operations — one set of codes for placing bets, and another for paying off winners.
  • In an early Family Ties episode, Elyse's brother Ned (played by Tom Hanks), a high-ranking corporate exec, embezzled funds from his company in order to sabotage a company closure that would put hundreds of people out of business. At one point he answered the phone, "The falcon has landed. The fat man walks alone. Repeat: The falcon has landed. The fat man walks alone."
  • Game of Thrones: In "Mhysa," Joffrey receives a letter from Walder Frey informing him that Roslin caught "a fine fat trout" and her brothers gave him a pair of wolf pelts. Since a fish is the sigil of House Tully and a direwolf is the sigil of House Stark, this means that the Red Wedding was a success, with the Freys having killed Robb and Catelyn Stark and taken Catelyn's brother Edmure Tully(Roslin's groom) hostage.
  • On General Hospital, Luke and Laura are separated from their son Lucky when they realized that they needed to go on the run. Laura quickly left him a perfectly normal sounding message—“There’s been a change in plans. Your dad and I are going bowling tonight, and you can find your dinner in the freezer.”—in order to alert him that he needed to escape quickly too (the “dinner” was cash that he’d need for his trip).
  • Get Smart:
    • Parodied, naturally, in the first episode. Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, who has yet to meet 99, has been told by the Chief that Agent 99 will approach Max in a public location by informing him of one team beating another in baseball. Unfortunately, that team actually manages to beat the other team on the day before, so everybody is saying it. Max almost ignores her until she says the score was 99 to 86. And the fact that it was "Mets win double header" that was such a remarkable headline might be a Take That! to the pre-'69 "Lovable Losers".
    • Also spoofed with the ridiculous sign/countersign when Max first meet Hymie (which is useless anyway as Hymie has knocked on the door earlier pretending to be Max, waited till the Control agent gave the password, then knocked him out and repeated the password to Max when he shows up).
      Hymie: The blue sun melts the red snow.
      Smart: And the purple water runs up hill.
    • On another occasion the sign/countersign is the lyrics to Dixie. Max and his contact end up singing a duet.
    • In another, Max is supposed to whistle Yankee Doodle, when he spots the target for his boss to follow. Unfortunately, he doesn't know how it goes, so he has to ask someone. By the time, the target appears, he forgets to whistle and just says "Yankee Doodle, Yankee Doodle". His boss figures it out, though.
  • Parodied in the Gilmore Girls episode "The Third Lorelai".
    Lorelai: [answering the phone] Independence Inn.
    Emily: I need the hat rack.
    Lorelai: [mysteriously] The fish flies at night!
    Emily: What?
    Lorelai: I don't know. Who is this?
  • The season 2 premiere of Good Omens has a brief bit of this as a gag. Crowley is reading the newspaper on a park bench, in a park that was established in season 1 to be a meeting place for spies, politicians, and dignitaries up to secret business.
    Bearded Spy: [sits down on Crowley's bench with a briefcase] The clarinet can make beautiful music.
    Crowley: What?
    Bearded Spy: The clarinet. It can make beautiful music.
    Crowley: Wrong bench. You want the Azerbaijani Sector Chief, he's over there.
    [The Bearded Spy gets up, embarrassed.]
  • Attempted near the end of Green Wing when Joanna and Statham are fleeing the police.
    Boyce: The weasel is still in its cage. The weasel is still in its cage... The weasel is out of the cage! The weasel is out of the cage! Fly, pelicans! Go, go — The weasel is returning to the cage! The weasel is returning to the cage, so pelicans to the kitchen! Pelicans, go to the kitchen. Go to the kitchen! The kitchen! The bush! The kitchen is the bush!
  • Paul Merton is fond of this trope. When A Rare Sentence comes up on Have I Got News for You, he will often say it sounds like something spies would use as code. And his TV show had a sketch where the Reveal Shot at the end showed that the pond where the two spies were feeding ducks as they had their cryptic conversation was entirely surrounded by other guys in trench coats and fedoras doing the same thing.
  • Hogan's Heroes varies between speaking plainly and using code, apparently completely at random. Even the people they talk to in England sometimes get confused — at one point they spend a great deal of effort trying to decipher the code Hogan is using when he said his courier would be a chimpanzee. It takes a while for them to realize that the courier genuinely is a trained chimp.
  • House:
    • In "All In", Wilson parodies this when House phones him while playing cards.
      House: Keep your answers short and discreet. Is Cuddy still playing?
      Wilson: The chicken is still in Picadilly Square.
    • Played (somewhat) straighter in "The Down Low" where House gets around a drug dealer's reluctance to talk about his cocaine business by referring to the product as "culottes".
      House: So do you cut the culottes yourself or do they get cut by the individual tailors on the street?
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Ted uses this to discreetly refer to an art-school tryout that Lily doesn't want Marshall to know about (because attending the school would conflict with their wedding).
    Ted: So Lil, did you, uh... get the milk?
    Lily: [quietly] Yeah... yeah, I got it.
    Ted: You think you might want to... drink the milk?
    Lily: Nope. [smiles] Nope, I'm good. I don't need any milk.
    Marshall: Look guys, I know milk is important. It's got vitamin A, vitamin D... it's a great way to start the morning, but Ted just had a huge date! How'd it go, dude?
  • Explained in the JAG episode "Soul Searching" when a CIA agent that Admiral Chegwidden believes "saved his soul" in Vietnam is captured, and he and Webb go to rescue him. Chegwidden and the agent had worked out a code back then, with the key phrase being "It's a great day for baseball at Ebbets Field. I hear you used to umpire there." The agent would respond by identifying locations on a baseball field (first base, right field, the press box, etc.), with the agent being home plate, where enemy soldiers would be for Chegwidden to snipe.
  • L.A. Law: Douglas Brackman is ordering sushi for the first time and asks the beautiful woman sitting next to him for advice, using terms from the menu such as "hand roll." She's an undercover vice cop and arrests him for solicitation of prostitution — dropping the charges in great embarrassment when shown the menu.
  • Law & Order and other shows dealing with cops trying to catch Mafia dons run into Variant #1 a lot: the don orders a hit, the cops and DAs argue that it means murder-for-hire, and the defense attorney plaintively says "He was just asking about an apartment!" (Or whatever the on-the-face conversation was.)
  • Lost:
  • The best example is in season 4.
    Naomi: I'm sorry, George. Tell my sister I love her.
  • The mysterious U.S. spy Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H uses this in official communications, though also in regular speech. He favors the unrelated phrases variety.
    Flagg: Alright, Corporal, read back what you've got.
    Radar: Uh, yes sir. To the Far East Export Import Company, 27 Zapata Circle, Ti-joo-ana, Mexico.
    Flagg: Right, go on.
    Radar: Yes sir. Mary had a little lamb. Stop. My dog has fleas. Stop.
    Flagg: Good, there's a bit more. Mairzy doats and dozey doats, and I'll be home for Christmas. Got that?
    Radar: Uh... in just a moment, sir. Uh, okay.
    Flagg: Sign it: Your loving son, Queen Victoria.
  • Many Mission: Impossible episodes began with one of these. Jim Phelps would go somewhere and have an innocuous conversation. When he would insist on a detail, they took him to the self-destructing tape.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus
    • In the "Secret Service Dentists" sketch in episode four, a customer innocently enters a bookshop, whose manager tries with weird excuses to get rid of him, until:
      Arthur: But I was told to come here.
      Bookseller: [bundling him back in] Well. Well, I see. Er... [very carefully] I hear the gooseberries are doing well this year... and so are the mangoes. [winks]
      Arthur: I'm sorry?
      Bookseller: Er... oh... I was just saying... thinking of the weather... I hear the gooseberries are doing well this year... and so are the mangoes.
      Arthur: Mine aren't.
      Bookseller: [nodding keenly with anticipation] Go on...
      Arthur: What?
      Bookseller: Go on — mine aren't... but...
      Arthur: What?
      Bookseller: Aren't you going to say something about "mine aren't but the Big Cheese gets his at low tide tonight"?
      Arthur: No.
      Bookseller: Oh, ah, good morning. [starts to bundle him out then stops] Wait. Who sent you?
      Arthur: The little old lady in the sweet shop.
      Bookseller: She didn't have a duelling scar just here... and a hook?
    • Another Python sketch features a trio of KGB agents who get confused by their own code:
      Bag: Who's giving the orders round here?
      Grip: I am. I'm senior to you.
      Bag: No, you're not. You're a greengrocer, I'm an insurance salesman.
      Grip: Greengrocers are senior to insurance salesman.
      Bag: No they're not!
      Wallet: Cool it. I'm an ice-cream salesman and I am senior to both of you.
      Bag: You're an ice-cream salesman? I thought you were a veterinarian.
      Wallet: I got promoted. Let's go.
  • On Murphy Brown, when Murphy finds out she's pregnant, the first person she tells is Frank, but she's so upset that at first all she can say is "The stick was blue." Frank, baffled, decides she's invoking this trope and replies, "The dog barked at midnight."
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide:
    Quirley: [knocks] The weasel runs at midnight.
  • Parodied in a Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch where it turned out that only one of the men involved was a spy; the other was cruising. ("Spy? Spy? No boyfriend of mine goes out to work!")
  • The Palace: In the first episode, Superintendent Bayfield informs Prince Richard of his father's passing with the words "tower bridge." Presumably they settled on the signal long ago in case the news needed to be broken in a public location, such as the nightclub bathroom where the scene occurs.

    In Real Life, all the senior royal's funerals are planned well in advance, as befits such a complicated ceremony. To make it easier to talk about, each funeral is assigned the name of a bridge as a code name. The Queen Mother's was called "Tay Bridge" after a bridge in her Scottish homeland. The Sovereign's funeral is always code-named "Tower Bridge"
  • Peacemaker (2022): Played for Laughs. When preparing to assassinate a senator and his family, Economos calls them "The Berenstein Bears", referring to the targets individually as "Papa, Momma, Brother and Sister Bear" and their bodyguard, Judo Master, as "Cobra Kai".
  • In The Sandbaggers, whenever anyone is reporting in from the field, the conversations are always heavily couched in metaphor. On the other hand, the speech avoids the sign/countersign form, and the "disguise" is a light one — usually something along the lines of a manager speaking to his salesmen in the field. Apart from the true nature of their "business," the roles are in fact strongly analogous.
    • In episode "A Feasible Solution", senior agent Willie is sent to Cyprus with novice Jill. They run into a spot of trouble, and afterward Willie tells Neil, his boss, "I wanted to let you know how pleased I am with my new girlfriend. We had a heavy session today, and she knew exactly what to do at every step. She's no virgin!" — from which Neil infers that "Jill" is a KGB plant.
    • In "A Question of Loyalty", Mike's confidence is shaken by a failed mission, and while on his next mission he suggests that Neil send "my older brother". Neil says no, but "don't be surprised to see your pretty cousin from Grosvenor Square," i.e. Karen of the CIA, whose office is in the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London.note 
  • Saturday Night Live:
    • An old sketch parodied WWII spy movies, with these lines: “Would you care to purchase a pair of mittens?” “It depends on the yarn.” “In Italy it is illegal to record the ring of a telephone.” “Which lasts longer, silk or rayon underwear?” “How do you say ‘tooth powder’ in Portuguese?” “Cats are nothing more than effeminate dogs.” “The fireplace has flown south for the winter.” “What do you say to a centipede on opening night? Break four or five legs.”
    • A sketch that aired not long after 9/11 showed FBI agents wiretapping a phone call between two old ladies, losing interest as they slowly realized the conversation was innocuous, then suddenly paying attention again when an exchange like this would happen:
      "How old are your grandkids?"
      "Oh, about 9, 11..."
    (The seemingly subverted trope is ultimately played straight at the end of the sketch, after the FBI agents hang up, when it is revealed that the old ladies were actually planning a terrorist attack.)
  • Sesame Street had an early series of sketches where Bob and Maria would rendezvous at a fog-shrouded waterfront and start their meeting by exchanging nursery rhyme lyrics as code.
  • Mob-specific Spy Speak is a fixture on The Sopranos.
    • For instance, "we're bringing in some tailors from Sicily to do the job, why don't you see about getting them some scissors."
    • Also lampshaded, subverted, and parodied to hell and back at various points.
      Anthony Infante: Listen, as far as that thing goes... the coffee with the chicory...
      Johnny Sack: The fuck is that?
      Anthony Infante: Oh shit. I suck at talkin' like this John, I'm sorry. Our friend with the stomach.
      Johnny Sack: In town or near home?
      Anthony Infante: Your neighbor. A.S...?
      Johnny Sack: Yeah, all right. Just say "the thing I asked you to do." The coffee with the fuckin' chicory... Is he gonna get it for me?
      Anthony Infante: Yes. Bad news is that he wants ten cups for himself. Not seven.
      Johnny Sack: Alright. Done. Did you pick up the birthday cake for Gin with the marzipan flowers?
      Anthony Infante: The... stuff behind the pool...?
      Johnny Sack: No, an actual fuckin' cake! It's her birthday!
  • Supernatural: Sam and Dean have the code phrase "Funky Town"; Dean uses this to tell Sam he's in trouble and has a gun pointed at him.
  • Trigger Happy TV:
    • The "spy" skits had these:
      Spy: In Leningrad the boulevards are bigger than Paris, yes?
      Guy on train: I've never been in Leningrad.
      Spy: You have the briefcase, you are White Bear?
    • As Trigger Happy TV is a hidden camera show, they occasionally parody it further. For instance, if the spy discovers that the person he is talking to is not "Grey Squirrel" then he will get up and move on, followed by a man in a full body grey squirrel costume coming and sitting in his place a few moments later, much to the confusion of bystanders.
  • Played with in A Very Secret Service. Calot tries to warn his colleagues that in the context of the Cold War, any word or sentence could be code for something sinister. Moulinier laughs it off, but just before he goes to a summit Berlin, a rookie agent intercepts a telegram saying "The monkey is in the rocket". Moulinier spends the entire summit wondering what this could mean, and in trying to tease out the message's meaning, inadvertently causes a massive crisis that leads the Russians to install missiles in Cuba. At the end of the episode, it turns out that the message was about the Americans literally sending a chimpanzee into space. So naturally, when Moulinier reads another intercepted telegram warning of an "imminent landing in the Bay of Pigs", he dismisses it as "just a bunch of pigs going for a swim"...
  • The West Wing had a version where if an national crisis took place during an public event in the White House someone would walk over to the cabinet-members, the President or whoever was needed and, as casually as posible, interrupt whatever they were doing with an "Excuse me, Leo McGarry [The President's Chief of Staff] would like you to say hello to an old friend of his", this meaning "Follow me, ASAP".
  • Parodied on the game show Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego. In one type of clue, this girl spy would tell Greg something that sounds like code, but it's not: it's expanded to be the clue pointing to the next location.
  • The Wire: The Major Crimes Unit does have to listen to many hours of wiretaps to try and get a making of what language the Barksdale uses as code for their drug-related deals. Unsurprisingly, it's hard to filter out pertinent from non-pertinent information.
    • Played for Laughs early in season 3, when McNulty, Kima, and Lester find out about Drac, a nephew of Proposition Joe's and the talkingest motherfucker ever heard on a wiretap. As proof, Lester plays back a tape where Drac tries to speak in code but eventually loses patience and shouts, "Cocaine, nigga!"
    • Also played for laughs when the police pick up Cheese having a conversation about a "dawg" he killed and felt regretful about killing. They have him brought in and interrogated. Bunk and McNulty are under the impression that Cheese is confessing to killing a person named "Dawg". It's not until Cheese tells them where the body is, "unless the SPCA comes around", that they realize he was just talking about putting his dog out of its misery in a dogfight.
    • Exploited by Marlo, by letting the police hear him say he's "picking up the skinny girl from New York", which leads them to try catch him picking up a drug shipment, but he actually just goes to the train station and ofers to carry a random woman's bag to the parking lot.

  • Reinhard Mey "Das Geheimnis im Hefeteig" has much of this. Hilarity Ensues when a cake goes kaboom and agents of all countries try to get the secret recipe.

  • In an episode of The News Quiz Sandi Toksvig revealed that she had been approached by MI5 at university (because she could fit in a suitcase). Bob Mills replied that it had always confused him when she said "And at the end of that round, the daffodils are blooming in Bucharest".

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • The school principal and Benedict both use the term 'study group' to refer to the students that have superpowers.
    • Played for Laughs when Ivy and Luna realise that their teacher has been replaced by a government agent. They try to leave the classroom, and she advises them to return quickly. They both freak out over the idea that she's speaking code words and delivering a hidden threat to them. Ivy tries to rebuke her, but can't actually figure out a metaphor to respond with.

    Scripts & Screenplays 
  • Extreme Prejudice (2019): When Phoenix Police Officer Jeff Mason discusses the activities of a local drug dealer, "El Tortuga", with the informant "Dollar Bill", they use several euphemisms involving convenience stores and instant coffee to refer to drug-related activities.

    Tabletop Games 
  • As Delta Green is all about the top secret inter-departmental conspiracy that deals with the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos, there's a fair bit of this. For instance, the most common way to let an agent know they've got a mission is to call them up and say, "You are invited to a night at the opera."
  • From the back of the box of Dominion: Intrigue:
    A passing servant murmurs, "The eggs are on the plate." You frantically search your codebook for the translation before realizing he means that breakfast is ready. Excellent. Everything is going according to plan.
  • Dying Earth RPG adventure "The Exasperating Cadaver" on the Dying Earth website. The PCs are told that when they pick up the package they will be told "The owl hoots twice" and they are to respond "But not tonight." When they drop off the package with Penderbast they are to say "I hope we have not come at an inopportune moment." and Penderbast will reply "Your arrival is anticipated and sought after."
  • Spanners in Continuum use a form of sign/countersign to identify other spanners. They ask what time it is. Levellers will respond with the time. Other spanners will respond by repeating the question back to the asker, word for word.
  • The Sign/Countersign version occurs in the Paranoia adventure Send in the Clones. The PC Troubleshooter Chock-O-BLK-1 is told to use the phrase "The show I like is My Favorite Computer" to Hall-Y-WUD to identify himself as a fellow member of the Free Enterprise secret society. Hall-Y-WUD is supposed to respond with the phrase "Yes, that's one of our most popular shows." Unfortunately Hall-Y-WUD hasn't been informed about the password and will say instead "Hmm. I've never heard of that show."
  • Top Secret Companion, adventure "Operation Meltdown" has a Sign/Countersign example. Each PC is instructed to enter the Diplomatic Passport line at the airport, tell the immigration officials that their name is "Smythe, with a Y" and then say "I work for an umbrella company". They will then be put on a helicopter flight to the United Nations building.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Dungeon magazine
      • Issue #8, adventure "For a Lady's Honor". When a group of thieves is ordered to make contact with a client of the Thieves' Guild, they and the contact must identify themselves to each other using code phrases.
        Contact: The long sobs of the violins of autumn...
        Player Characters: ...wound my heart with a monotonous languor.
      • Issue #66 adventure "Operation Manta Ray". The Player Characters are hired to rescue a Sembian government agent from the Pirate Port of Immurk's Hold. When they meet the agent, they are to identify themselves to each other using specific phrases.
        PCs: Are you from Chessenta?
        Agent: No, and I would never go there.
        PCs: And why not?
        Agent: Because they don't play chess in Chessenta.
        PCs: Yes, but they have other fine games there.
    • Polyhedron magazine
      • Issue #74 article "The Ill Eagle Inn". The Ill Eagle Inn is the site of an operation that fences stolen goods. When a thief wants to sell something, he tells the waitress that he would like to ask the owner Sorduel for a recommendation about what food to order. When the owner arrives, they go through an extended Sign/Countersign routine (see below), after which the owner slips the customer a note telling them when to return for a private meeting.
        Customer: I hear the Ill Eagle serves an excellent rat soup.
        Sorduel: I'm afraid that delicacy isn't in season just now.
        Customer: Then I simply must have some.
        Sorduel: Perhaps we can find something on the menu to meet your needs a bit more favorably.
      • Issue #134 adventure "Intrigue in Raam". When members of the Veiled Alliance secret society in the city of Raam want to identify each other, they use a Sign/Countersign routine.
        Member 1: My father is a templar.
        Member 2: My mother is a gardener.
        Member 1: You come of good stock.
  • Shadowrun adventure DNA/DOA. After the runners complete their mission, they are told to go and meet their contact. To identify himself, the contact will ask if the sky is still blue, and the person he talks to is to respond that it hasn't been since they were a child.

  • Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia
    • Any time Mikhail Bakunin is around.
      Bakunin: The Green Canary flies at Dawn!
    • Even funnier because of his Large Ham egoist tendencies:
      Bakunin: [confidentially] The green canary flies tonight — ten o'clock — usual place — pass it on.
      Sazonov: I told you.
  • Bells Are Ringing:
    • It has an example involving mobsters using an unwitting third party. A group of bookies is trying to secretly place bets on horse races over the phone. How do they do this? They set up a fake classical music company, Titanic Records, which sells recordings of various symphonies and takes phone orders through an answering service, Susanswerphone. The employees of the answering service don't know it, but the phone orders are code for the bets being placed. For example, as laid out in the song "It's a Simple Little System" by the "president" of Titanic Records, Sandor, the names of composers correspond to various major racetracks:
      Sandor: What is Beethoven?
      Goon 1: [reading off list] Belmont Park!
      Sandor: Who's Puccini?
      Goon 2: Pimlico!
      Sandor: Who is Humperdinck?
      Goon 3: Hollywood!
    • This gets them into trouble when, just before a major race, many "customers" place "orders" for "recordings" of "Beethoven's Tenth Symphony" — when Beethoven, famously, only wrote nine symphonies. The well-meaning employees of Susanswerphone, who are not in on the scam, helpfully change all the previous orders to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which causes quite a problem for Titanic Records...

    Video Games 
  • In a mission in Alpha Protocol, the sign/countersign version is used as a Trust Password in a mission to infiltrate a NSA listening post, with Mike having to say how the Adirondacks are lovely this time of year inside an Italian gelato shop in Rome. While Mike has the correct sign from an inside source, the guy on the other end doesn't respond with the right countersign. Using the code phrase prevents him from springing a gun on you at the end, meaning that Mina either had faulty info or the Gelato Man remembered the sign but had forgotten the countersign.
  • Assassin's Creed: Initiates shows the Assassin Order sending e-mails like this, often using business terms which refer to the Templars and Abstergo as their main competitors or rivals. Adriano Maestranzi sends one e-mail to William Miles that states that one of their business associates had to leave Whistler, Canada because "he didn't want to be "buried" in work there, like his colleagues", and later follows it up by stating that their business rivals there were led by an old rival who "deceived" their CEO back in 2000.
  • In Delicious 8: Emily's Wonder Wedding Patrick, who was stuck in the hospital in Ireland on the original wedding day, decides to surprise Emily by having a destination wedding, complete with a priest from back home.
    Reverend Baylor: Psst! The crow flies at midnight.
    Patrick: Reverend Baylor, I told you, we don't need a code phrase.
    Reverend Baylor: Oh please!
    Patrick: Sigh...The full moon lights the way toward home.
  • Deus Ex
    • In the original game, a random NPC in the Hell's Kitchen Clinic will ask JC "Who will help the widow's son?" and awkwardly excuse himself when JC doesn't understand. Though this is never stated in the game, the phrase is an old greeting and plea for assistance associated with the Freemasons.
    • There is also the first contact with Harley Filben. Filben is a UNATCO agent on Liberty Island, to whom JC is supposed to identify himself with the phrase "Iron and copper". JC weaves the phrase into a seemingly innocuous question about the construction of the Statue of Liberty. Filben scoffs and says that just giving him the passphrase is enough.
    • In one of the sidequests in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Jensen has to meet a contact to pick up an autopsy report. The contact, who is obviously a geek who is just doing things this way because he takes the whole thing too seriously, is supposed to be greeted by the code phrase "Life and death have their determined appointments." Jensen can play it professionally and use the phrase like he's supposed to. Alternately, (and hilariously) he can dismiss the whole thing saying "Something something, death and taxes. Confucius." Or he can just walk up to the contact and demand the information.
  • Dragon Age
    • There is a sidequest in Dragon Age: Origins involving gaining entrance to a secret meeting using the phrase "the griffins will rise again". The Warden has the option of being silly and saying either "sausage" or "the grey nug flies north for the winter" instead.
    • In Dragon Age II, Snarky!Hawke has some fun with this:
      Hawke: Oooh, cloak and dagger phrases! How about... the queasy crow... flies at midnight?
      Mistress Selby: How about...the smart-mouthed Ferelden gets slapped across the face?
    • In Dragon Age: Inquisition: Iron Bull (a Qunari spy) tells Varric (a writer of detective novels) that this isn't the way it works, and it's mostly just pre-arranged dead drops. Varric says his way is more fun.
  • Enter the Matrix: Niobe and Ghost's cryptic messages on airport pay-phones (something about "a bouquet of roses delivered at midnight").
  • In Fallout 4, the Railroad often uses this as their way of secretly communicating with and identifying members. The most common phrase used is "I'm looking for a Geiger Counter" which is responded with "Mine is in the Back".
  • Final Fantasy II plays this trope straight, requiring one to get a code from NPC A and give it to NPC B every now and then. This contributed to its Broken Base among fans.
  • Final Fantasy VIII: Player has to pick the correct response. You can screw it up by saying "Moogles" or "Chocobos" instead of owls, but he recognizes you anyway... and your SeeD rank drops.
    Man: Boy, the forests of Timber sure have ch-changed!
    Squall: But the owls are still around.
  • In a Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas mission cutscene, you overhear government agent Mike Toreno's radio conversation:
    Mike Toreno: Roger that, Big Monkey, I got a 13-6 fat vulture. Need to acquire a drowning baby. Over. [gets interrupted by Carl's arrival] In 15 by the moon. Break your heart. Over and out.
  • In Hotline Miami, Jacket receives his orders via seemingly mundane telephone messages, such as reminders of invitations and appointments, all mentioning specific addresses. Obviously, his actual orders are to go to said addresses and murder everyone there. At the end of the game, it’s revealed that other people have been receiving the calls, and that the culprits were a pair of janitors. Finding all the secret letters and assembling their password reveals that they work for an violently patriotic group called 50 Blessings.
    "Hello, it's 'Linda'... I need a babysitter right away. Got a few kids that need to be disciplined here. I'm at East 7th Street. Make sure you have a long talk with them, I really need someone to get through to these rascals. And like last time... please be discrete!"
  • Christopher Mills uses this to get in contact with Garcian Smith in Killer7. Whenever he has a new assignment for him, he leaves a message on his answering machine, pretending to be calling around on behalf of the Republic Party (to prevent wire tapping), which serves as a signal for Harman to come see him at the overpass.
  • In Leisure Suit Larry 2: Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places), Larry's hapless My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels attempt to woo a Spanish-speaking woman happen to be the sign/countersign to land him a microfilm full of state secrets and the pursuit of KGB agents who were supposed to receive it.
    Larry: My pencil is long, hard and yellow.
    Secret Agent Woman: Thank God, I've been wanting to pass this on forever.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, as a prequel title, has one of the big questions of MGS2 as a call sign for Snake to identify himself to ADAM: "Who are the patriots?" The correct reply "La Li Lu Le Lo" (which is like the XYZ in the Japanese letter system) also explains how that phrase became an alternate name for the Patriots, since Snake and ADAM were among the founders of the organization they later called "The Patriots".
  • In indie game Mount & Blade, you can sometimes get quests from your lords or king to receive spy's reports from enemy towns, in which you have to sneak past the border into the rival town, run around randomly reciting whatever phrase the lord or king had you memorize (from a list), looking like an idiot, until you find the spy.
  • One of the missions in No One Lives Forever involves exchanging these code phrases with several deep cover spies in East Germany. However, since Cate Archer, the player/protagonist, is a woman in the pre-feminist 1960's, all of the code phrases are crass come-ons from the spies and "witty" shootdowns from Cate. Most of them are at least apologetic about it.
  • Pizza Tycoon:
    • You can buy weapons from the mob (to wreck your competitors' places). Naturally, this is illegal, so you can't just ask for them; if you do, the dealer sics the cops on you. Instead, you have to order ice cream... at thousands of dollars a "scoop".
    • Same thing if you bribe the police. Openly offering a bribe will get you busted. Asking the cop if he "lost this wallet" on the other hand...
  • The 2018 game Safe House has a minigame based on the Sign/Countersign version of this trope. Spies walk into the front office of the player's safe house and say a randomly innocuous sentence. They must be turned away unless their sentence contains a codeword in a dossier. If it does, the player needs to type in the correct countersign (which is expanded into another innocuous reply using the countersign), and determine whether the spy's reply contains the correct third code word associated with the countersign before accepting them.
  • In the Sam & Max Save the World episode "The Mole, The Mob, and the Meatball", they are told to say the phrase "Does the carpet match the drapes" to another agent. The response the other agent is supposed to give: "Why I never...!" and slap them on the cheek.
  • The Secret of Monkey Island:
    • The game has the possible exchange:
      Map salesman: Excuse me, do you have a cousin named Sven?
      Guybrush: No, but I once had a barber named Dominique.
      Map salesman: Close enough. Let's talk business.
    • This receives a Shout-Out in the third game, where the pirate barbers explain that their band used to have a fourth member named Dominique.
  • Syndicate employed traitors use type 3 as their primary way of identifying each other in Space Station 13. The codewords can be an innocuous word (e.g. skill), a location (e.g. Disposals), a job (e.g. Quartermaster) or a popular term (e.g. Greytide). They are given in sets of 3. (e.g. Sign: Quartermaster, plasma, Silicon. Countersign: Atmos Tech, skill, cryo).
  • Indie video game SpyParty has one of the possible missions as this; the Spy must signal the Double Agent with a Key Word type of spy-speak. They can also fake signals in a conversation to throw off the Sniper, who can listen to conversations to try and determine if the spy is signaling anyone. The problem is that the signal is always "banana bread," which sticks out in the otherwise humdrum background party conversation like a sore thumb. This has led many players to refer to any attempt (real or faked) to signal a Double Agent as "banana breading."
  • In World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, the Outcast Arrakoa are a minority persecuted by their High Arrakoa cousins, led by the Adherents of Rukhmar. Those involved with La Résistance use a sign/countersign: "shadows gather..." / "...when the raven swallows the day". (This is also used for Theme Naming; Shadows Gather is the quest chain that introduces you to the Outcasts; When The Raven Swallows The Day is the chain where they are finally victorious.)
  • Wynncraft: In the quest Acquiring Credentials, there's a secret code to get into the Letvus Airbase Black Market, à la Captain America: The First Avenger:
    Barman: The table's been set for the great feast, have stout or beer, what will it be?
    Password: I'm not thirsty, I always carry a bottle.

    Web Animation 
  • A Flash Tub on Something Awful:
    Ralph: The crow forgets his luggage!
    Jeff: What?!
  • Silver Quill: In "After the Fact: Slice of Life", after criticizing the episode's twist that Sweetie Drops is a secret agent, Silver is confronted by one cryptically talking mare...
    Sweetie Bloom: The mole snuck into the garden last night.
    Silver Quill: Wait, what?
    Sweetie Bloom: The bird has flown the bush with two in its hand.
    Silver Quill: I think that's wrong...
    Sweetie Bloom: The jam is moldy in the kitchen and the rolling rabbit gathers moss.
    Silver Quill: I have no idea what you're saying!
    Sweetie Bloom: The monkeys are restless and my dog has fleas!
    Silver Quill: Are you thinking before you speak?
    Sweetie Bloom: Confirm the custard...
    Silver Quill: Stop saying words!
    Sweetie Bloom: Over out...
    Silver Quill: Why does this keep happening?

  • Drive: Agents of the Jinyiwei identify themselves with a call-and-response, one agent presses their left fist into their right palm and says "this fist moves mountains" and the other presses their right into left and responds "this fist moves stars." They and the imperial Familia also have secret languages of hand signs for covert communication.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Mr. Verres, being a government agent, gets to use this from time to time. Unfortunately, some things sound less cool in code.
    • Grace once sent Justin a letter written in extremely nerdy language. It was not pre-arranged between them, but Justin understands it perfectly:
    Letter: "Darmok. Purple Kenobi senses force-sensing in Skywalker. Ink likely. No reason Sith to be assumed, but likely knows midi-chlorian counts. (Side note: I apologize for bringing up midi-chlorians.)"
    Justin: Luke has a magic mark that lets him detect magic ability!? But how could Tedd sense that?
  • General Protection Fault: Fooker receives a message in spy speak, but he replies in plain English.
  • Girl Genius: Smoke Knight Violetta coerced two other Smoke Knights (who were functionally invisible to everyone but Violetta) to reveal themselves by uttering the phrase. "All shadows are to come into the light."
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • In "Travel Delays", it's a necessity for Nale, since Sabine could have any appearance.
      Sabine-as-Azurite: [whispering] Psssssst! "Beware the green monkey."
      Nale-as-Elan: [whispering] "He barks at midnight."
    • During the fight against Tarquin and his party, V says "Sir Greenhilt, I believe Xykon is feeling chilly today." The others immediately understand that it means, "Attack the Squishy Wizard, who is wearing a scarf."
    • Also parodied in the prequel book Start of Darkness; see the Comic Books folder above.
  • Peter Is the Wolf has an extensive code language for lycanthropes and informed Muggles.
  • It's not really spies, but in Questionable Content, Faye is on the phone with her mother while she's having lunch with Marten. At the end of the conversation, she says, "The peaches are MOST DEFINITELY NOT RIPE. Goodbye." She then explains that it's their code word just in case Faye was taken against her will.
  • Type 2 Example: In Rusty and Co., some halfling rogues have a complete conversation entirely in Thieves' Cant about a job they declined and the amount of help they need escaping their potential employers.
  • Shelly tries it in Scary Go Round, but it doesn't help that she's a bit of a Cloudcuckoolander:
    Shelly: Red Rover, this is Danger Bunny! The owl is in his tree! Also, Danger Bunny needs a tetanus shot!
    Mike: The what? "The scallop is entering the briny deep?" Shelley, I think the idea is that the code is pre-agreed.
  • Done in Schlock Mercenary quite often, between teams of mercs/soldiers.
    • Subverted when Schlock announces to the room that he's found their contact after completing the phrase.
    • Another instance had former intelligence analyst Kathryn captured by a spy. She flukes his call-and-response, then realizes a few strips later what has happened when he tries to get her to report. As an ex-analyst, she knows about the code, but not how to use it, which makes her a bigger target.
  • xkcd
    • Spoofed with Summer Glau.
      Jewel Staite: She says, "plan gamma acknowledged, the meerkats are in the bag." So we're good?
      Nathan Fillion: That depends. Do you see an actual bag of meerkats?
      Jewel Staite: No.
      Nathan Fillion: Then we're probably good.
    • And again in this strip
      Caption: My hobby: Following field biologists and interpreting everything they say as code phrases.

    Web Original 
  • Frequenters of various social media sites often use coded phrases to identify themselves, such as "The narwhal bacons at midnight." for Reddit and "I like your shoelaces" for Tumblr.
  • Worm has a couple examples:
    • First, in Chapter 5.5, Tattletale comes up with the following (which doubles as a source of Trust Passwords on a few occasions):
      Tattletale: We'll be using a password system every time we check in, in case you're taken hostage and forced to answer a call. Two parts to it. The first part is simple, you give the other person the first letter of one of our names, the other person replies with the last. If it winds up being a longer night, move on to other people we know. [...] The second part is color based. When you're replying to a call, name an object that's a certain color. Think traffic lights. Green for go, everything is okay. Yellow for warning, if you aren't sure about things. Red for stop, need help. It lets you keep us informed without tipping off the capes that are with you.
    • Second, in Chapter 20.1, we see that Skitter has developed an open code so that she and her minions can covertly exchange information via text message without raising any flags if someone sees their text messages.

    Web Videos 
  • In Friendship is Witchcraft Applejack tells her friends "Tell Big Macintosh the eagle has landed in the pond, and there's a bomb strapped to the eagle." They fail to understand it. Even when she outright tells them she was being held against her will and there's a bomb, they stay completely oblivious. The only reason they didn't all die was because of Raincloud's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • In the Game Grumps LP of Sonic Shuffle, Dan is so bewildered by a seemingly inexplicable string of text ("The Carbuncle ate itself") that he compares it to this.
    It's like the kind of shit you would say to a spy after you drop off the suitcase full of government secrets for him. "The chocolate mousse is not in season. The Carbuncle ate itself."
  • In the pilot episode of Scamalot, James convinces Solomon to adopt a code that replaces words such as "lawyer" and "bank" with candy-related terms. Hilarity Ensues:
    Solomon: The business is on. I am trying to raise the balance for the Gummy Bear so that he can submit all the needed Fizzy Cola Bottle Jelly Beans to the Creme Egg for the Peanut M&Ms process to start. Send £1,500.00 via a Giant Gummy Lizard.
  • Ultra Fast Pony: In "Stay Tuned!", Rainbow Dash pranks Twilight Sparkle by telling her to give a sign/countersign at a dropoff. The sign is nonsense, and completely unnecessary.
    Twilight: The dawn cow barks at the lonely sponge on a midsummer's eve.
    Mrs. Cake: Damn it all, what are you talking about, girl?

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • The Order of the White Lotus members use this.
      Man: Who knocks at the guarded gate?
      Iroh: One who has eaten the fruit and tasted its mysteries.
    • Before this, they actually had a Spy Board Game which also started off with two lines of coded dialogue. The trick is that to a non-member the proper sequence just seems like an old-fashioned strategy.
  • In the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Deep Cover for Batman!", while Red Hood (the Mirror Universe version of The Joker) is being interrogated by Silver Cyclone, he's secretly still in contact with Batman via earpiece, who needs to find his location to rescue him. Red Hood attempts to do this, sneaking directions in his answers to Cyclone. ("There were just 5 steps left, But then you found me, and the plan went south.") Unfortunately, while Batman quickly deciphers the code, so does Cyclone, who promptly leaves to take care of his unwelcome guest.
  • This was a major part of The Brak Show episode "Shadows of Heat", where Brak's dad is involved in some conspiracy along with George Martinez, Hector Riviera and Rudolfo the Butcher. It turns out they're planning Hector's bachelor party.
  • Carmen Sandiego: Carmen and Ivy are scouting for a V.I.L.E. operative when Dash Haber mistakes Ivy for his contact and provides her with the opening sign. Ivy attempts to bluff her way out of giving the countersign, and Dash accepts that she's the right person but refuses to continue until she gives the right response. Carmen quickly clocks the real contact, gives the sign she learned from Dash Haber, and passes the countersign along to Ivy so that she can intercept the heist.
  • Danny Phantom:
    Sam: Clueless-1, this is Goth-1. Over.
    Danny: Goth-1, this is Clueless-1. Why am I Clueless-1?
    Tucker: Tell him!
    Sam: Shut it!
  • Parodied in the Dilbert cartoon, where one of the requirements in the beefed-up corporate security was speaking in codes like this, among other things...
  • One episode of Donkey Kong Country had Klump trying this. K.Rool was not impressed.
    Lump: The fog was thick and dense.
    K.Rool: Like your brain.
    Klump: No no, I mean the air is thick with enemies! Code-talk! So no-one will understand me.
    K.Rool: That's a given on the best of days, Klump.
  • In an episode of the original DuckTales, the protagonists visit a restaurant full of spies speaking Spy Speak.
  • Parodied in the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "In Like Ed":
    Eddy: The crow caws at midnight.
    Rolf: And the cat sours the basil. Rolf would love to talk politics, but I must see your invitation!
  • Family Guy, when Peter goes to a pet shop being used as a front by the mob, that they know is bugged by the feds.
    Mob Customer: I'd like to buy a "bunny". [makes air quotes]
    Mob Shopkeeper: What kind of "bunny"? A fully-automatic "bunny", or a hand-held "bunny"?
    Mob Customer: The kind of "bunny" that would be best for shooting a guy in the head.
  • Josie and the Pussycats. In the episode "Never Mind a Master Mind", Melody tries to trade in wooden blocks for purple wooden shoes at a shoe store. The shoe store is actually a front for a spy operation and the phrase Melody uses turns out to be a code phrase identifying the user as a secret agent. Melody is thus given the mission intended for the real agent.
  • In The Loud House episode "Fool Me Twice", when the family conducts a secret meeting in the hopes of outsmarting Luan with April Fools' Day approaching once again, they have to disguise themselves and meet at a secluded location where she won't find them. During this time, this exchange between Mr. Loud and Lincoln occurs:
    Mr. Loud: [slowly and with an affected deep voice] What kind of lamb did Mary have?
    Lincoln: [also with an affected voice] A little one. With the fleece as white as snow.
  • Featured as a gag in an early episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, where we see a conversation between two Pottsylvanians that turns out to be in spy-speak, translated by the narrator.
  • The Simpsons has the following exchange:
    Herman: Password?
    Grampa: Let me in you idiot!
    Herman: Right you are. [opens door]
  • Star Wars Resistance: In "The First Order Occupation", Kaz substitutes "food" for "spy" when warning pirate spy Synara that she has to get off the Colossus because the First Order is onto her.
  • Parodied with two of Megabyte's cronies in ReBoot, who would confound and annoy their boss by speaking in nonsensical codes:
    Binome: The jam is moldy in the kitchen, and the rolling rabbit gathers no moss.
    Megabyte: What are you talking about?
  • The Venture Bros.:
    • This is used by secretive organizations like the Office of Secret Intelligence and the Guild of Calamitous Intent. It is occasionally lampshaded.
      Phantom Limb: [on the radio] Blackout Target Victor Echo November Seven Niner is in Daddy's lap. Repeat, in Daddy's lap. Call off Blackout team. Daddy is going to put the boys to bed... himself.
      Radio: [muffled response]
      Phantom Limb: Yes. I'm going to kill them. It's a very simple metaphor.

      Col. Hunter Gathers: Skypilot! Abort! Brando's got us on us on our bellies and he's reaching for the butter!
    • Pete White:
      Pete: Hello, Goldilocks? This is Casper. Little Nemo has fallen out of bed.
    • And another in "Red Means Stop" when the Guild and OSI briefly team up. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch and Hunter Gathers apparently had a communications breakdown at some point because they're using different codes, so they decide to drop it and speak normally instead.
  • X-Men: Evolution:
    Kurt: [looking at the girls through a pair of binoculars] Blue Boy to Tracker One, do you read me? The pigeons are leaving the roost. [camera pans down to see Scott sitting next to him]
    Scott: Kurt, I'm right here. And why are you talking like that?

    Real Life 
  • At airports, on cruise ships and in other enclosed places where strangers gather, you may hear the loudspeaker declare that "Friends of Bill W. are welcome at [bar in such-and-such place]." This is code that a member of Alcoholic Anonymous (founded by Bill Wilson in 1936) is going through an craving at a bar and has asked the bartender to inform whomever happens to be a fellow struggler to show up and help them.
  • Famed undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone (better known under his alias "Donnie Brasco") confirms that this is actually how a lot of modern Mafia members talk about "business". Because they can never be sure when law enforcement might be listening in, they tend to use the vaguest language possible, leading to such indecipherable statements as "Did you do the thing, with the two guys, in the place? No, no, the other place." Deciphering recordings of this jargon can be a nightmare for law enforcement, who often listen for hours and hours without the slightest idea as to what or whom is being discussed. Even the Italian name of the organization, Cosa Nostra, just means "our thing".
    • Trouble is, even if law enforcement do know what they are speaking about, they may have trouble using it as evidence in court, as they'll have to convince the jury to interpret vague statements in a particular way.
    • During the trial of Henry Hill, the mobster whose life Goodfellas was based on, the Feds brought in actual jewelers to testify that the conversations Hill was having weren't actually related to jewelry work and were instead code for drug deals.
    • There are stories of drug dealers using similar codes, such as talking about delivering different colours of paint to mean different drugs or amounts of them. There are also stories of that going wrong in the obvious way...
      • Employees of a KFC in Mill Valley, California took the "secret herbs and spices" thing further and were surreptitiously dealing marijuana through the restaurant in 2002. If you wanted pot, you were supposed to ask for "extra biscuits". The operation was discovered when a normal customer who had no knowledge of this asked for extra biscuits and was duly handed two bags of weed. The moral of the story: If you use a code phrase for illegal items when using a business as a distribution front, don't make it something that could logically be asked for at that place.
  • John Barron's non-fiction book KGB: The Hidden Hand tells of a KGB agent explaining to an American he'd recruited about the use of signs and counter-signs, whereupon the man burst out laughing — he'd assumed that such talk had been a ridiculous invention of spy novel writers.
  • Victor Suvorov, a former GRU (Soviet military intelligence, and rival agency to the KGB) says in Inside the Aquarium: Making of a Top Soviet Spy that signs and code phrases used in the field should be as innocuous as possible (and usually accompanied with similarly innocuous behaviour, like holding a newspaper under one arm). He also describes at least two situations when he almost missed the sign himself while meeting with contacts.
    • He also said in interviews that the academy where he trained had a regular name, a secret name and a top secret name. Not one of these reflected its nature as a Spy School.
  • People in Romania tried to use Spy Speak while talking about taboo subjects during the communist era. "Did the kids like the grapes I sent" was a possible analogy for asking if the family got the illegal books you bought in other countries. Granted, this never worked, as the state police did house wipes at the slightest suspicion. It did mean they have an excuse to beat someone up, empty their refrigerator and get praised for not killing/raping anyone.
  • This was the purpose of Cockney rhyming slang (ex. apples and pears = stairs), which sounds absolutely silly to Americans. However, when used properly, only the first word would be used — so telling someone that "your pitch was upset with John getting his hands on your Persian and now your trouble is brown and you need an April" would be a bad situation to be innote  The slang was meant to be impenetrable to outsiders so that dodgy deals could be carried out in relative secrecy unless the listener was also Cockney (and therefore a Loveable Rogue) and knew what each word actually meant.
  • General Lloyd Fredendall, a US commander during World War II, had a tendency to tell his staff to cut orders to subordinate commanders referring to "clouds", "popguns", "walking boys", and grid co-ordinates "starting with C". The unfortunate thing was that he never told anyone what his terms meant.
  • A very common military strategy is for a soldier to challenge an approaching unknown with a number. The newcomer responds with another number, and their numbers should add up to a previously agreed upon number. A variation is to use hand signs to signal the numbers back and forth, while lessening the risk of outsiders overhearing the numbers. The number they are supposed to add up to will usually change from one day to the next as well. This is also particularly handy if you are wearing chem warfare gear that makes it difficult to talk clearly without shouting or to dig an ID card out of a pocket.
  • Many forms of thieves' cant were invented exactly for this purpose. Russian ofenya is one of the modern examples.
  • In cryptography, messages will be padded with nonsense for various reasons, depending on the encryption method used (including concealing the length of the message, or bringing it up to a whole number of blocks when using an encryption method that works on blocks of fixed size). During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Admiral Nimitz sent a message to Admiral Halsey: "Where is, repeat, where is Task Force Thirty Four?". Routing information and padding was added to the message, and it was then transmitted. Upon receiving it, Halsey's radio officer removed the padding on the front, but overlooked the padding on the back. So the message that got handed to Halsey was "Where is, repeat, where is Task Force Thirty Four? The world wonders." Halsey took this as a sarcastic insult (as well he might) and then deliberately delayed for an hour.
  • In Western politics, the term "dog whistle" describes a seemingly innocent phrase or word that carries a secondary affirmative meaning among a certain element of their constituency. The phrase is often used in reference to right-wing beliefs, with the case that popularized it in the political lexicon being George W. Bush's invocation of Dred Scott v. Sandfordnote , which analysts understood as a show of support for recriminalizing abortion in the United Statesnote . Other common dog whistles include references to "inner city crime" to covertly express racism against ethnic minoritiesnote , references to "states' rights" to support neo-Confederate ideologynote , references to "family values" and "protecting the family" to voice queerphobianote , and references to "international bankers" to voice antisemitismnote . One negative side effect of this, however, is that people might be accused of dogwhistling when their words actually were meant in an innocuous sense.
  • This was fairly common practice in World War II naval codes. The names of locations would be meaningless nouns, so even if the code was cracked the enemy's information is limited. They may know a carrier task force is headed to "eggplant", but not what or where "eggplant" is. Adm. Yamamoto's task force had to sail for around two weeks to reach Pearl Harbor, during which Japan was still trying to come to a diplomatic solution. Yamamoto was to only attack Pearl Harbor if he received a transmission involving the words, "climb Mt. Niitaka." Sure enough, this message was received.

    This confusion played a major part in the Battle of Midway. The US knew the Japanese were on the way to "AF" and suspected they would attack Midway island, but they didn't know for sure. They sent a fake message in the clear stating that Midway needed fresh water, which the island itself has no springs of. Later they intercepted a Japanese message saying that AF was short on water. That's how they found out the Japanese were going to attack Midway.
    • It was also common among American personnel to use a great of American slang when they had to transmit in the clear, as Japanese, Italian, and German forces would have absolutely no idea what was being said. However, this only worked among American forces, as personnel in friendly allied nations would have been equally baffled.
  • Businesses such as malls, department stores, or movie theaters will often have a set of innocuous-sounding code phrases that can be announced over the PA or radios to alert employees to problems or threats. These are designed to sound like normal messages so as not to panic the customers.
    • The stereotypical one being "Manager Redmond to storage room 5" to signify that storage room 5 is on fire.
    • Some schools do this as well, where the office will page a former/deceased teacher or administrator as a signal to lock doors and turn off lights (as with a school shooting or similar incident).
  • Passwords in Freemasonry use the sign/countersign technique but usually with gestures, letters, and sounds instead of words.
  • Some taxi businesses use these. If a fare was proving to be troublesome, they have two innocuous-sounding phrases they can transmit as part of the usual taxi-to-despatch radio communications. One phrase means "need assistance", the other means "need police". They're subtle rephrasings of one of the standard status calls.
  • US military operations used to be named with a form of this, assigned two random words (e.g. "Market Garden") to prevent anyone from inferring anything about the nature of the operation. Nowadays many are given more overtly PR-friendly names (e.g., "Iraqi Freedom" for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, "Just Cause" for the 1989 invasion of Panama, "Tomodachi" (Japanese for "friend") for relief efforts following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake), though here it is more for selling the action for public support as by now such large-scale actions are nigh impossible to keep secret, and in any case more specific actions whose knowledge might be useful to adversaries still have such intent-obscuring names (e.g., Operation Red Dawn for the capture of Saddam Hussein, Operation Neptune Spear for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden).
    • Other countries did this as well. To what extent the nature of the operation or project was betrayed by its name varied — Nazi Germany, for example, on one hand had invasion plans for several countries tied to colors (ex: the first Fall Grun ["Plan Green"] were invasion plans of Czechoslovakia had the Munich Conference fallen apart), which worked out all right. On the other hand, all the British needed to know about a project Nazi Germany had was its name ("Wotan", one German name for Odin, a one-eyed Norse god) to deduce it was a new radar system using a single location — obviously, that didn't do so well in the obscurity department.
    • Another Nazi example is "Operation Sea Lion", their plan for an assault and landing on the coast of Britain, whose royal coat of arms has multiple lions. Note to all troperific generals: if it contains a clever reference to what you're planning to do, it's not a good code name.
    • The British were known for honing the art of the Non-Indicative Name. For instance, Operation Dynamo (the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk) was so named because it was planned in an emergency session in a dynamo room. Operation Mincemeat (the planting of false documents on a real corpse in enemy territory) was literally picked off a list; in fact the name had been used by another operation some months before, and the names were recycled.
      • One exception to the random assignment of codenames was enforced during World War II by Winston Churchill, who insisted that the landing site codenames for D-Day must not be selected in this manner, on the grounds that no widow should have to be informed that her husband had died in a valiant attempt to take Fluffy-Bunny or Teddy-Bear. Of course, the resulting namesnote  were still largely non-indicative, with the small exception that it's kind of easy to work out which sites were American targets.
    • Two major British offensives in Normandy were named after racecourses. Germans who got the codewords, and who knew many British tank regiments were repurposed cavalry units with lots of officers who still thought like horsed cavalry commanders, were alerted by "Operation Goodwood" and "Operation Epsom", figuring out this meant a massive attack with all available tanks, being handled as if it was a cavalry charge. Neither offensive achieved all its objectives despite massive numerical superiority.
  • People who do search-and-rescue operations sometimes use a "death code" when transmitting over open radio, to let other teams know they've found the body of the lost person while (nominally) keeping the media from finding out about it. For example, teams might be briefed by the incident commander to say they have found "a bottle of whiskey" instead of a body. This usually doesn't fool anybody.
  • Any sufficiently developed slang can be this — lots of words with meaning known to only a selected few.
  • A more light-hearted example: one Tumblr post that rapidly went viral suggested that users of the site could do this to find each other in real life. The idea was that if you thought someone was a fellow Tumblr blogger, you'd tell them, "Hey, I like your shoelaces", and if they were a Tumblr blogger, they'd reply, "Thanks, I stole them from the President". The idea would ultimately lead to tumblr selling branded shoelaces.
  • The Navajo Code-Talkers used a form of spy-speak, since the Navajo language doesn't have specific words for most military items and personnel. Thus, a tank was a "tortoise", a tank destroyer was a "tortoise killer", aircraft were denoted by various types of birds, etc. One Navajo soldier (who was not a Code-Talker) was captured by the Japanese and asked to translate the code. He could recognize it as the Navajo language, but the messages made no sense to him.
  • "Tank" itself was originally a code word, chosen to disguise the development of armoured vehicles by referring to them as water tanks.
  • Companies will often give codenames to projects in production, mostly to prevent competitors from figuring out what they're doing. The most evident one is filmmaking on location, upon which someone will post temporary signs on streetlights, telephone poles, and other structures with an arrow leading to the set and some word either marginally related or completely unrelated to what they're filming, particularly when the film is hotly anticipated — for instance, Return of the Jedi was codenamed "Blue Harvest" during production. Similarly, high-profile film and TV releases will often be distributed under code names — when the new Doctor Who was being prepared for broadcast, its materials went out under the anagram title Torchwood, which later acquired a series of its own because producer Russell T Davies liked the sound of it.
  • When Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple group moved to Guyana in The '70s, the only reliable way they could stay in contact with their home base in California was via amateur ("ham") radio. One issue with this is that FCC forbids using ham radio to conduct business. Another was that as the cult's activities got more sinister, they didn't want outsiders to know what was happening. So they developed an extensive system of code words and phrases for their ham transmissions. This didn't fool other ham operators, who lodged complaints to the FCC, but nothing was ever done about it.
  • Some bars may have a code word that patrons, women especially, who feel unsafe can place to mean "I need a taxi/Uber/etc. out of here." Usually the code word is something like "I'll order an angel shot" or "Can I speak to Angela?" Of course, this depends on the customer's predator not being in on these phrases.


Video Example(s):


The General *Ahem*

Michael Heseltine and Margaret Thatcher have a coded discussion about the Falklands War.

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Main / SpySpeak

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