Pig Latin

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Pig Latin
Igpay Atinlay
Spoken inEnglish-speaking world
ClassificationLanguage game or Argot
See also: Language games

Pig Latin (Pig Latin: Igpay Atinlay) is a language game or argot in which English words are altered, usually by adding a fabricated suffix or by moving the onset or initial consonant or consonant cluster of a word to the end of the word and adding a vocalic syllable to create such a suffix. For example, "Wikipedia" would become "Ikipediaway" (the "W" is moved from the beginning and has "ay" appended to create a suffix). The objective is to conceal the words from others not familiar with the rules. The reference to Latin is a deliberate misnomer; Pig Latin is simply a form of argot, cant, or jargon unrelated to Latin, and the name is used for its English connotations as a strange and foreign-sounding language. It is most often used by young children as a fun way to confuse people unfamiliar with Pig Latin.[1]


For words that begin with consonant sounds, all letters before the initial vowel are placed at the end of the word sequence. Then, "ay" is added, as in the following examples:[2][3]

  • "pig" = "igpay"
  • "latin" = "atinlay"
  • "banana" = "ananabay"
  • "will" = "illway"
  • "butler" = "utlerbay"
  • "happy" = "appyhay"
  • "duck" = "uckday"
  • "me" = "emay"
  • "bagel" = "agelbay"
  • "history" = "istoryhay"

When words begin with consonant clusters, the whole sound is added to the end when speaking or writing.[4]

  • "smile" = "ilesmay"
  • "string" = "ingstray"
  • "stupid" = "upidstay"
  • "glove" = "oveglay"
  • "trash" = "ashtray"
  • "floor" = "oorflay"
  • "store" = "orestay"

For words that begin with vowel sounds, generally only a syllable 'yay' is appended to the end, with no modifications to the beginning onset. This convention is not universal; other suffixes such as 'way' or 'hay' are also used. Examples are:

  • "eat" = "eatyay" or "eatway" or "eathay"
  • "omelet" = "omeletyay" or "omeletway" or "omelethay"
  • "are" = "areyay" or "areway" or "arehay"
  • "egg" = "eggyay" or "eggway" or "egghay"
  • "explain" = "explainyay" or "explainway" or "explainhay"
  • "always" = "alwaysyay" or "alwaysway" or "alwayshay"
  • "ends" = "endsyay" or "endsay"
  • "amulet" = "amuletyay" or "amuletway" or "amulethay"
  • "I"= "Iyay" or "Iway" or "Ihay"

An alternative for words beginning with vowel sounds has one remove the initial vowel(s) along with the first consonant or consonant cluster.[citation needed] This usually only works for words with more than one syllable and offers a variant of the words in keeping with the mysterious, unrecognizable sounds of the converted words. Examples are:

  • "every" = "eryevay"
  • "another" = "otheranay"
  • "under" = "erunday"
  • "island" = "andislay"
  • "elegant" = "egantelay"

When several words make one phrase, each word is changed the same way, e.g.: my big sisterymay igbay istersay. Sentence structure remains the same as it would in English. Pronunciation of some words may be a little difficult for beginners, but people can easily understand Pig Latin with practice.

Origins and history[edit]

The modern version of Pig Latin appears in a 1919 Columbia Records album containing what sounds like the modern variation, by a singer named Arthur Fields. The song, called Pig Latin Love, is followed by the subtitle "I-Yay Ove-Lay ou-yay earie-day".[5] The Three Stooges used it on multiple occasions, most notably Tassels in the Air, a 1938 short where Moe Howard attempts to teach Curley Howard how to use it, thereby conveying the rules to the audience. In an earlier (1934) episode, Three Little Pigskins, Larry Fine attempts to impress a woman with his skill in Pig Latin, but it turns out that she knows it, too. No explanation of the rules is given. A few months prior in 1934, in the Our Gang short film Washee Ironee, Spanky tries to speak to an Asian boy by using Pig Latin.[6] Ginger Rogers sang a verse of "We're in the Money" in Pig Latin in an elaborate Busby Berkeley production number in the film Gold Diggers of 1933.[7] The film, the third highest grossing of that year, was inducted into the National Film Registry and that song included in the all-time top 100 movie songs by the American Film Institute. Merle Travis ends his song "When My Baby Double Talks To Me" with the phrase, "What a aybybay", where the last word is Pig Latin for "baby".

Two Pig Latin words that have entered into mainstream American English are "ixnay" or "icksnay", the Pig Latin version of "nix" (itself a borrowing of German nichts[8]), which is used as a general negative; and "amscray", Pig Latin for "scram", meaning "go away" or "get out of here".[9][10][11][12]

In other languages[edit]

French has the loucherbem (or louchébem, or largonji[13]) coded language, which supposedly was originally used by butchers (boucher in French).[14] In loucherbem, the leading consonant cluster is moved to the end of the word (as in Pig Latin) and replaced by an L, and then a suffix is added at the end of the word (-oche, -em, -oque, etc., depending on the word). Example: combien (how much) = lombienquès. Similar coded languages are verlan and langue de feu (see fr:Javanais (argot)). A few louchébem words have become usual French words: fou (crazy) = loufoque or louftingue, portefeuille (wallet) = larfeuille, en douce (on the quiet) = en loucedé, à poil (naked) = à loilpé. Also similar is the widely used French argot verlan, in which the syllables of words are transposed.

Verlan was first documented as being used as far back as the 19th century. Back in the 19th century it was spoken as code by criminals in effort to conceal illicit activities within conversations around other people, even the police. Currently, Verlan has been increasingly used in areas just outside major cities mainly populated by migrant workers. This language has served as a language bridge between many of these migrant workers from multiple countries and origins and has been so widely and readily used that it has spread into advertising, film scripts, French rap and hip-hop music, media, in some French dictionaries and in some cases, words that have been Verlanned have actually replaced their original words. The new uses of Verlan and how it has become incorporated into the French culture has all happened within just a few decades.[15]

Here is an example of some French words that have been Verlanned and their English meaning:[16]

French Verlan English
bande deban group
bizarre zarbi weird
Black (Eng.) kebla black person
bloqué kéblo blocked
bonjour jourbon hello
bus sub bus
cable bleca trendy
café feca cafe
classe secla class
clope peclot cigarette
cool (Eng.) looc cool
démon mondé demon
disque skeud album
fais chier fais ieche it makes one angry
femme meuf woman
flic keuf cop
fou ouf crazy
français cefran French
jobard barjot crazy
l'envers verlan reverse
louche chelou shady
mec keum man
mère reum mother
métro tromé train
musique sicmu music
père reup father
piscine cinepi pool (swimming)
poulet lepou chicken (similar to "pig" in English; for police officer)
pourri ripou corrupt
rap pera rap (music)
truc keutru stuff
vas-y zyva go for it (literal translation),
actually used in conversation as "come on"

Some verlan words have gone though a second round of such transformation. For instance reubeu is verlan for beur, which itself is verlan for Arabe.

In Argentina there is a variation of Spanish that follows a similar pattern, by moving the first syllable to the end of the word (and, in some cases, other minor modifications). It is called 'vesre', which means 'revés' (reverse or backwards) using the 'vesre' rules. This language has been used in tango since the beginnings of s.XX, though there are some examples of eralier use in Spain. Some examples:

Spanish Vesre English
café feca coffee
amigo gomía friend
doctor tordo (missing the 'c') physician or lawyer
banco cobán bank
mujer jermu woman or wife
calle lleca street
libro broli book
borracho choborra drunk
pantalón talompa (missing the middle 'n', making the ending 'n' into 'm' to follow Spanish rules),
lompa (missing the middle 'ta')

Words with more than 2 syllables may use different rules that are not well defined;[17] the use rules in this case.


  1. ^ "What exactly is Pig Latin, is it a language? And how is it a mystery? - Everything After Z by Dictionary.com". Everything After Z by Dictionary.com. 2010-10-05. Archived from the original on 2018-08-27. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  2. ^ "Useful phrases in Pig Latin (IgpaAtinlay)". www.omniglot.com. Archived from the original on 2017-01-04. Retrieved 2017-01-03.
  3. ^ Barlow, Jessica A. (2001-09-01). "Individual differences in the production of initial consonant sequences in Pig Latin". Lingua. 111 (9): 667–696. doi:10.1016/S0024-3841(00)00043-7. ISSN 0024-3841.
  4. ^ "How to Speak Pig Latin". Archived from the original on 2017-03-07.
  5. ^ I Always Wondered: Where did Pig Latin come from? Archived 2016-01-29 at the Wayback Machine
    The consensus seems to be that the version of Pig Latin we know today, was born sometime in the 20th century. In 1919 Columbia records released an album with Arthur Fields singing “Pig Latin Love”. The Subtitle “I-Yay Ove-Lay oo-yay earie-day” indicates that this is the modern form of Pig Latin we recognize today. I was able to scrounge up a photograph of the 1919 sheet music on eBay. Below the Pig Latin subtitle is the translation, “(I love you dearie)”, suggesting that perhaps this form of Pig Latin hadn’t taken root among the general public yet.
  6. ^ "- YouTube". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2016-11-26. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
  7. ^ Trippy Ginger Rogers Pig Latin. YouTube
  8. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, s.v.
  9. ^ Blake, Barry J. (2010). Secret Language: Codes, Tricks, Spies, Thieves, and Symbols. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780191614712.
  10. ^ Miller, D. Gary (2014). English Lexicogenesis. OUP Oxford. ISBN 9780199689880.
  11. ^ Hendrickson, Robert (1998). QPB Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. Facts on File. ISBN 9780965379458. amscray ixnay pig latin.
  12. ^ McGraw-Hill Education 3 MCAT Practice Tests, Third Edition. McGraw Hill Professional. 2017. ISBN 9781259859632.
  13. ^ "LARGONJI : Définition de LARGONJI". Cnrtl.fr. Archived from the original on 2013-12-30. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  14. ^ Françoise Robert l'Argenton (1991). "Larlépem largomuche du louchébem. Parler l'argot du boucher". Langue Française (in French). Parlures argotiques. 90 n° 1: 113–125. doi:10.3406/lfr.1991.6200. Archived from the original on 2014-03-10. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  15. ^ Stille, Alexander (2002-08-17). "Backward runs French. Reels the mind. Verlan, a kind of code among immigrants, both confuses and intrigues". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Davis, J.J. (Autumn 2004). "Autumn, 2004, Vol. 29 Issue 3, p7, 2 p". Verbatim. 29: 7.
  17. ^ Varela Villafranca, Diego (September 14, 2017). "Vesre que te quiero vesre". SinFaltas.com. Retrieved July 25, 2022.


  • Barlow, Jessica. 2001. "Individual differences in the production of initial consonant sequences in Pig Latin." Lingua 111:667-696.
  • Cowan, Nelson. 1989. "Acquisition of Pig Latin: A Case Study." Journal of Child Language 16.2:365-386.
  • Day, R. 1973. "On learning 'secret languages.'" Haskins Laboratories Status Report on Speech Research 34:141-150.
  • Haycock, Arthur. "Pig Latin." American Speech 8:3.81.
  • McCarthy, John. 1991. "Reduplicative Infixation in Secret Languages" [L'Infixation reduplicative dans les langages secrets]. Langages 25.101:11-29.
  • Vaux, Bert and Andrew Nevins. 2003. "Underdetermination in language games: Survey and analysis of Pig Latin dialects." Linguistic Society of America Annual Meeting, Atlanta.

External links[edit]