Secrets in Plain Sight: 40 Little-Known Codes All Around Us


In today’s world, the use of secret codes and ciphers may seem like something from a bygone era, but in reality, they are still very much present in our daily lives. From encrypted messaging apps to hidden symbols in art, secret codes are all around us. They are used by governments and organizations to protect sensitive information, and by individuals to keep their personal communications private. In this article, we will explore the current uses of secret codes.

11Friend of Bill W.

Friend of Bill W.

If you are at an airport and overhear on the loudspeaker someone calling out for a "friend of Bill W." to come to such-and-such area, it means a recovering alcoholic is in trouble and they need a fellow from Alcoholics Anonymous to come and talk to them, to keep them from relapsing. "A friend of Bill's" is also how how AA members identify each other in public.

1286'd in Restaurants

86'd in Restaurants

If you are in a restaurant and hear the chef says "they 86'd the salmon," It can refer to when an item on the menu is not available because the restaurant has run out of ingredients.

13Taxi Drivers Code

Taxi Drivers Code

Many taxi drivers use radio codes like, "There's an oil spill at ...", or "Cardboard boxes lying on the road ...", to warn other drivers of a police speed detection unit. There are other codes to tell other drivers that a popular taxi rank is empty (or full), or warn of drunk or obnoxious customers trying to hail a taxi. "There's a number eight at the railway station," might mean beware of a fare who looks likely to throw up in your taxi.

14Niagara, Niagara, Niagara

Niagara, Niagara, Niagara

On a cruise ship if there is an announcement for the crew with the codeword "Niagara, Niagara, Niagara", followed by a location, it means there is a flooding situation on the ship.

15Koch's Disease

Koch's Disease

A doctor may refer to a suspected case of tuberculosis as "Koch's disease" in order to avoid alarming patients.

16Operation Bright Star

Operation Bright Star

On cruise ships a crew announcement calling for "Operation Bright Star" denotes a severe medical emergency requiring immediate attention, while "Operation Rising Star" means a passenger has passed away.

17Bread Bag Twist Tie Code

Bread Bag Twist Tie Code

The color of twist tie on your bread bag indicates which day of the week that bread was made. This makes it easy for grocery stores to spot aging bread on the shelves. Monday – blue, Tuesday – green, Thursday – red, Friday – white, Saturday – yellow, Sunday and Wednesday are off.

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18Doctor Brown

Doctor Brown

Some hospitals, particularly in the US, use ‘Doctor Brown’ as a code to protect doctors and nurses, alerting them to the threat of violent patients in the vicinity. In some cases, paging ‘Doctor Brown’ will automatically send for security to come to their aid. Although the exact phrase used can vary, ‘Code Silver’ may indicate that the attacker is armed.

19Time Check Code

Time Check Code

If you hear a time check announced over a loudspeaker in a store (it may sound like, “Time check, the time is 1:30″) it means there’s a bomb threat.

20Mr. Gallagher

Mr. Gallagher

In hospitals and medical facilities, they have security investigate fire alarms before calling in the fire department unless the sprinkler system actually goes off. Since they cannot announce over the PA system that the fire alarm is going off, they "Page Mr. Gallagher" to a location. This is the code for security to investigate that location for a potential fire.


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