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An in-joke, also known as an inside joke or a private joke, is a joke whose humour is understandable only to members of an ingroup; that is, people who are in a particular social group, occupation, or other community of shared interest. It is, therefore, an esoteric joke, only humorous to those who are aware of the circumstances behind it.

In-jokes may exist within a small social clique, such as a group of friends, or extend to an entire profession or other relatively large group. An example is:

Q: What's yellow and equivalent to the axiom of choice?
A: Zorn's lemon. [1]

Individuals not familiar with the mathematical result Zorn's lemma are unlikely to understand the joke. The joke is a pun on the name of this result.

Ethnic or religious groups may also have in-jokes.[2]


In-jokes are cryptic allusions to shared common ground that act as selective triggers; only those who share that common ground are able to respond appropriately.[3] An in-joke can work to build community, sometimes at the expense of outsiders. Part of the power of an in-joke is that its audience knows that many do not understand it.[4]

An in-joke can also be used as a subtext, where people in the know may find humour in something not explicitly spoken. They may even apologize for doing so to a rookie, directly or indirectly stating that what they were laughing at was an in-joke.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vanderbilt University Department of Mathematics (February 5, 2019). "What's Yellow and Equivalent to the Axiom of Choice?".
  2. ^ "Wales Online: "Are the Welsh Really Funny?", 14 October 2006. Retrieved 6 September 2012". Archived from the original on 18 July 2012. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  3. ^ Randy Y. Hirokawa and Marshall Scott Poole (1996). Communication and Group Decision Making. Sage Publications Inc. p. 96. ISBN 076190462X.
  4. ^ Paul Brooks Duff (2001). Who Rides the Beast?: Prophetic Rivalry and the Rhetoric of Crisis in the Churches of the Apocalypse. Oxford University Press. p. 81. ISBN 019513835X.
  5. ^ Ben Tousey (2003). Acting Your Dreams: Use Acting Techniques to Interpret Your Dreams. Ben Tousey. pp. 118–119. ISBN 1-4140-0542-3.