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An in-joke, also known as an inside joke or a private joke, is a joke with humour that 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.[1]

Typically, inside jokes use a reference in the punchline to imply that which is associated with the reference. Often, this reference refers to the punchline of another joke which was already heard by the ingroup.

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. When the ingroup only includes people which heard the previous portion of a comedic set, the type of inside joke is known as a callback.

An example is:

Q: What's yellow and equivalent to the axiom of choice?
A: Zorn's lemon.[2]

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.[3]


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.[4] An in-joke may be used 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.[5]

An in-joke can also be used as a subtext, where people in the know may find humor 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.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Inside joke Definition & Meaning". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. April 14, 2023. Retrieved June 2, 2023.
  2. ^ Vanderbilt University Department of Mathematics (February 5, 2019). "What's Yellow and Equivalent to the Axiom of Choice?".
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ Randy Y. Hirokawa and Marshall Scott Poole (1996). Communication and Group Decision Making. Sage Publications Inc. p. 96. ISBN 076190462X.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Ben Tousey (2003). Acting Your Dreams: Use Acting Techniques to Interpret Your Dreams. Ben Tousey. pp. 118–119. ISBN 1-4140-0542-3.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to In-jokes at Wikimedia Commons