Secret languages

At one time people came up with a language to communicate. This helped individuals to get closer, create a society and facilitate their survival. Recently, there has been a noticeable trend towards globalization – people are trying to learn one of the most common languages ​​in order to be able to communicate freely in different countries. But sometimes, in some societies, the goals are pursued quite the opposite. They come up with their own secret languages.

Such a method of communication allows you to transmit coded information and be understood only by your fellows. The guild and criminal communities are different. The former preserve professional secrets, while the latter seek to avoid responsibility before the law. To penetrate into the secrets of such languages ​​and study their vocabulary is not easy even for experienced linguists, and we will try at least to learn more about such unusual means of communication.


The history of this English secret language of sex minorities is shrouded in mystery. According to one theory, the British sailors created the Polari by combining their slang with the Frankish language. Others argue that the language developed in the XIX century on the basis of the jargon of Italian carnival buffoons. But everyone agrees that Polari became an internal dialect in the English theater. And from the scene, the secret code passed to British homosexuals. Linguist Paul Baker believes that the basis of the language was thieves’ argot, which was replenished with slang word translations brought in the XVIII century by numerous travelers. In the Polari you can find traces of the ancient London vernacular Cockney, which is characterized by rhyme-substitutes, pronouncing words backwards. In London, Polari became popular with male choristers, as well as male prostitutes. Until 1967 in England, same-sex intimate relationships were considered illegal, so that Polari became the language of outcasts. Radio BBC in the 1960s presented a bright comedy duo of Julian and Sandy, who often used unusual code. The couple never discussed sexual orientation, but using the Polari was a signal for those who were aware of. Today, this language is not spoken so often, but it finds its place in art. So, in the 1990 single, musician Morrissey “Piccadilly Palare” was an explicit reference to the Polari. The name of the language was written in an alternative form, which directly indicates its colloquial form. I must say that this is not the only secret language associated with gay culture in the English-speaking world. So, the gayle is an African dialect, which is mainly used by homosexuals in South Africa. Given the connection between the English-speaking countries, it is not surprising that many words from the Polari appeared in the geyl. South Africa boasts another secret language for homosexuals of the Bantu people, it is called Isinkumo. And although according to the constitution of South Africa gays have their rights, numerous homosexual murders and lesbian corrective rape say that there really is a need for these people to keep their secret with the help of a special language.

Hieroglyphs of vagabonds (hobo).

This language appeared in America right after the end of the Civil War. Then a lot of vagrants appeared around the country, who were looking for work. And during the Great Depression the language became even more popular, then the deprived tramps became the norm. These people traveled the country, leading a nomadic way of life, interrupted by casual earnings and without demanding from fate more. They usually traveled, hopping on the passing freight trains. The tramps were admired, they were pitied, feared and worshiped. And the writer John Steinbeck generally called these Americans “the last free people.” Not the best attitude on the part of sedentary Americans forced the Hobo to create a secret language. For the exchange of information, the hobos have developed their own language based on encoded symbols. Hieroglyphs spoke about danger, potential opportunities and even made food for religious conversations. The signs were intentionally abstract, they were written openly.And no one could understand the essence of the hieroglyphs, except the vagabonds. This language enabled vagabonds to survive in the new world of technology and trains. Those people practically did not know diplomas, so the graphic method of communication was chosen. For example, to the inhabitant the square with a point inside did not say anything, and tramps saw in it a sign of danger. Today, the symbols of tramps are almost never met, because the possibilities of civilized travel are available to almost everyone, and the railroad safety services monitor free-riders. Those who stayed in this manner, exploit it more often for show and festival purposes, and not for the sake of a rigid real image and life along the rails. The phenomenon of vagrants disappears, but their coded language still finds use. Thus, the hieroglyphs inspire the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who calls the dictionary of characters one of his favorite books. From it we learn that a circle with two arrows means an appeal to run away immediately, two shovels said that there is work, a cylinder or a triangle meant about the wealth of living people, and a grave hill with a cross spoke of a bad person. Two rhombs called to keep quiet, and crossed with two lines the circle spoke about the possibility of getting food as alms.


Linguists can not understand how this language was formed. It is likely that in Argentina and Uruguay it brought Spanish convicts in the XVII-XVIII centuries, who shared their dialect. Lunfardo added to the northern Italian dialects, the vocabulary of the English and French, absorbed the gypsy words, and some phrases were simply invented by the users themselves. And this language became a running one in the slums of Buenos Aires among the dregs of society. Over time, the lufardo went out of prisons and criminal dens, becoming a popular language in the city. He neglected class features and boundaries. Secret language is called today the language of tango, there are many metaphors and inversions of syllables. And even in the terminology of the dance many words of lunfardo enter. He generally defines the Argentine culture. The dictionary of the lunfardo, due to numerous borrowings, is quite large. The word tango transformed into gotan, mujer (female) – into jermu. It is a sensual language that pays attention to a man, woman and body parts. Today even good Spanish connoisseurs can not decode lyrics in the language of Lunfardo. But with the spread and popularization in the world of tango, the language itself has largely lost its mystery.

French peddlers.

The first known reference to the French peddlers dates back to 1567 and belongs to Thomas Harmanu. The encoded folk secret language created the British underworld based on Frankish for thieves, vagabonds and beggars. Frankish does not speak of the Gallic origin, but merely speaks of foreign roots. And what exactly served the basis of the language – a mystery. The same Harman speaks about the gypsy pedigree. And the most colorful history of origin says that the secret code was created by the gypsy king in the Devil’s Cave. Other experts believe that the gypsy origin of the language is impossible, because he appeared in England for half a century before the nomadic people arrived there. But no one has any doubt that the language was formed under the influence of the nomads of Northern India. And the very term “peddler” or “trader” in England had a criminal connotation. Independent sellers have become a stumbling block for securing state-approved monopolies. Such stray peddlers had lower prices than ordinary shopkeepers. But the authorities could not tolerate such unauthorized competition, so the vagabond merchants were simply christened crooks. In fact, do not assume that the language has nothing to do with English. There was an exchange of words and expressions with the coding of true values. So slang was formed with a very confusing variety of vocabulary. Linguists maintain that this language is still used in the prisons of Great Britain. The terms are used by smugglers, as in the times of Thomas Harman.Already in our time, police officers intercepted drugs, a reference to the cargo was given a phrase in the language of the French peddlers.

Russian criminal tattoos.

From the very beginning of human civilization, people have learned to decorate their bodies with tattoos. The oldest European mummy, Otzi, which is 5300 years old, was decorated with such drawings. Body art was owned by Egyptian mummies. But the Romans forbade tattoos, believing that they violate the harmony of the human body. But in the fight against the British-decorated colors, the views of the Latins have changed. In time, Roman physicians also mastered the art of drawing drawings on bodies. Tattoos on the bodies of the Crusaders said that they were Christians. So the Europeans reported on the method of their funeral, if they die in battle. After the Crusades, tattoos disappeared in European culture, until in the eighteenth century sailors brought them from the South Seas. In 1769, Captain James Cook landed in Tahiti, where the practice of painting the body was very running. The modern term for art comes from the Tahitian Tatau phrase. Today, tattoos are ubiquitous. These are fashionable ornaments, symbols of status or belonging to a subculture. In any case, colorful drawings have a symbolic meaning. But no other modification of the body is as much “talking” as the tattoos of Soviet criminals. Soviet authorities were forbidden to make tattoos in prison, so radical methods were chosen to bypass restrictions. Ink at times served as molten heels, mixed with blood and urine, and needles were made from any available sharp object. In the subject of Russian tattooed criminals clearly traced fatalism. Many lived only today and did not think about the consequences. And the knowledge of the secret language of the native drawings of the criminal came from Danzig Baldaev, an employee of the famous Leningrad prison “Crosses”. After his project was discovered by the KGB, the work was officially approved by the authorities. It was clear that the study of tattoos can provide invaluable information about the criminal subculture. The decoding of the secret language was published after the death of Baldayev, so there was a real encyclopedia of Russian criminal tattoos. Baldaev revealed many secrets of bodily symbols. So, the cat denoted the thief, the crosses on the joints – the number of prison terms, the penis on the woman’s body testified to her occupation of prostitution. The figure on the shoulder meant that the person was in solitary confinement. The most popular drawings were about ridiculing Soviet leaders, who were portrayed in absurd and compromising poses. So criminals expressed their attitude to power. In Soviet times, the absence of a tattoo on the body of a prisoner spoke of the lack of a person’s status. But far worse, if the prisoner had a heart-shaped drawing inside a white triangle. This tattoo was a sign of a child rapist. Such a symbol deprived the prisoner of any immunity and made him available to meet the sexual desires of other inmates.

Machay Huai.

In the Bolivian Andes, there are wandering folk healers, kalaway. Their culture dates back to the Incas. And they passed their healing skills from father to son, through the secret language of Machay Huai. Its origins are the object of dispute among linguists. Some believe that this is what the Kings of the Inca said, and others are looking for roots in Amazonian dialects. It was believed that the healers, traveling to the jungle in search of medicinal plants, adopted some words of local tribes. Kalavaya knew how to successfully perform operations on the brains of warriors, thanks to sorcerers, the West learned about quinine. Thus, during the construction of the Panama Canal, mass mortality from malaria was prevented. Despite a good record of healers, the church and the state pursued them until the twentieth century. And only in 1984 in Bolivia, alternative medicine was officially recognized.Until then, the healers were underground, communicating in their secret language in alarm for their freedom. In those days the kalavaya were considered sorcerers, for the practice of ancient art, prison was relied upon. Machai Huai remained an illegal language, although it passed 400 years after the fall of the Inca empire. Today, the demand for the services of Bolivian medicine men far exceeds offers. The secret language lives in the rites and medical actions of the kalavaya. But only rapid urbanization interrupted the tradition of inheritance skill. Sons are less likely to learn the ancient skill of the fathers and their secret language. So the traditions of the kalawaya quickly disappear. And pharmacists meanwhile show a serious interest in the accumulated centuries of knowledge. Nevertheless, with the help of a secret language, healers keep their secrets. You can not touch healing wisdom without the permission of the kalaway.

Gangsta graffiti of Los Angeles.

On the buildings of this American city you can often see youth drawings. But this is not an act of vandalism. Figures seem meaningless to those who do not know the secret language. But for the initiated it is a street newspaper. This reflects the territorial boundaries, rivalry and devotion. Law enforcement officials even learned how to decipher graffiti in order to uncover crimes. Often the code encodes the names of the gangs themselves. For example, the abbreviation ES DKS SGV can mean the Eastside Dukes of the San Gabriel Valley. Sometimes gangs in their names use Roman numbers or even symbols of Mayan tribes. Gangsta graffiti appeared in Los Angeles with the advent of Latin groups more than 70 years ago. Initially, it was just a way for the gang to declare itself and mark the territory. Black gangs quickly adapted to this language. In 1970-1980 in Los Angeles, the peak of the movement of gangsta graffiti and ordinary urban artists-tagers. The latter, too, are engaged in vandalism in encrypted form, but their work has more to do with underground art, rather than the criminal world. Differentiation is complicated by the fact that the taggers began to paint on the walls of buildings in gang-controlled areas. The city authorities today began to prohibit the use of the visual language of graffiti.


This Colombian criminal dialect appeared on the streets of Medellin in the 1980s. The city suffered from poor planning, social instability and a poor education system. The residents of the outskirts gathered here, discovering that the main business here was the sale of cocaine. Marginals from the working class turned into cartel fighters. Young drug dealers with secret language encrypted their illegal risky activities. Nevertheless, the parliament did not become the language of the drug lords themselves. In the lexicon there are foreign words, as well as ordinary words that have acquired a new meaning. So “cocina” (kitchen) began to denote the narcolaboratorium, “oficina” (office) means the drug mafia, the criminal organization in which the order is transferred from person to person so that it is not clear who is responsible. Analysis of this language is very important for law enforcement agencies. They relied on the work of linguistic experts on the parliament to decipher the messages of Colombian drug cartels operating in the Pyrenees. Parlament finally became a Colombian dialect, not only colloquial, but also written. Words began to penetrate into ordinary life, becoming a way to express colorfully and emotionally the thought. The parliamentarians write media in some countries of Latin America, some words are included in the Spanish academic dictionary. In the 1990s, the parliament was actively used in advertising, books, movies, which dealt with youth from poor neighborhoods. They are the main speakers of the language. And even politicians do not hesitate to insert “folk” words into their speech. Nevertheless, the language itself remains a kind of brand for the carrier, it speaks of the criminal past. Usually people who move up the social ladder, try not to use the parliament any more.And for others, the language remains a secret code of marginals, contributing to their self-identification and expression of solidarity. In 2001, the first vocabulary appeared in Parliament, so that once a secret language is now the subject of study by linguists around the world.

Code yes Pinci.

In 2009, in Surrey, some symbols were drawn on the houses, drawn with chalk. Drawings similar to children’s were in fact used by thieves-housekeepers. With the help of their secret language, criminals transmitted information to each other about what houses are worth breaking. Since then, the code has met in different parts of England. The police noticed that the owners of all the houses marked with chalk on the sidewalk had been robbed. The symbols were deciphered, and they bear an ominous meaning. One of the signs spoke of the presence of a defenseless woman in the house, others directly called the object an excellent option for robbery. The symbols defined anxiety, nervousness, fear, the degree of risk, or reported that there was nothing to profit. The British police could only issue instructions to English landlords with a decoding of the mysterious code. Residents were advised in case of unclear symbols to remove them, report to the police and quickly washed off. For the authorities, such an organized crime becomes a problem, but is it not too late to announce an alarm? Experts believe that deciphering the secret code will simply force the thieves to come up with a new language, which will be secret until it is discovered. It’s possible that thieves are already exchanging information right before our eyes, and nobody has even noticed it yet.


In the Russian Empire there were wandering merchants, offices. Over time, they began to consider themselves a separate secret society. The way of life was borrowed from wandering merchants, wisdom and Greek words – from pilgrims. Today, the language in which those people communicate among themselves is well known. The basis was borrowed from different languages, including Greek, Yiddish, Turkic, Finno-Ugric, Latin, Gypsy. Notable and skillful word formation. The buyer, who was present at the conversation of two cunning sellers, basically could not understand what they were talking about. The words seem to be similar to the Russians, but it’s impossible to catch the meaning. Vladimir Dal said that the traders artificially came up with a secret language to conduct “picaresque meetings.” In view of this, it is not surprising that cunning traders with their own incomprehensible language aroused close interest of the police. The authorities repeatedly tried to deal with the offices and their strange manner of communicating. Since the middle of the XIX century in Russia, the number of the number began to decrease, and at the beginning of the last century there was practically no audible and mysterious language at domestic fairs.

Aryan Brotherhood.

Under this name one of the most terrible prison gangs of America is known. It officially consists of less than a hundred members associated with the organization of drug trafficking and gambling right in prisons throughout the country. In order to secure income, members of the brotherhood do not stop using terror and extreme forms of violence. Many of the leaders of the organization sit in solitary confinement cells of strict regime, so complex tools of communication with each other have been developed. Some of the techniques are surprisingly ancient. Thus, TD Bingham, one of the leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood, is behind bars of one of the safest in the country prison. He used invisible ink and a 400-year binary code. The message fell into another high security prison, having traveled 2,700 kilometers. This code was developed by Sir Francis Bacon, and he was used by spies in the revolutionary army of George Washington. And the technique of invisible ink was described by Pliny the Elder more than two thousand years ago. Then simple technologies were used – people wrote urine or lemon juice on ordinary parchment. The message remained invisible until it was affected by heat. Simplicity of equipment was deceived by law enforcement agencies.The Bacon code is a two-sided cipher with two alphabets. One of them is regular, and the other contains crosses, loops and tails at the bottom of the symbols. These alphabets are combined, a sequence of five characters encrypts the letters of the English alphabet. Jonathan McGinley served as a master of encryption in the Aryan Brotherhood. He was also the head of intelligence and security in the gang, responsible for introducing the leaders of the Brotherhood to the secret language. His interest in ciphers arose when he was still young. McGinley managed to decode the rings in a box of cereal. Another simple but effective way of sending messages from a general regime prison was found by writing letters in library books. The companions then checked the documents and formed a message. The Brotherhood carefully keeps its secrets. Those who simply confess to belonging to an organization are threatened with death. So it was not possible to learn from the defectors. And there is an opinion that not all of them spoke the truth. It is likely that desertion was a ruse to obtain privileges not granted to other prisoners. So it is likely that the views on the Aryan brotherhood and its role will someday be revised.

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