Swordfish first appeared as a password in the 1932 Marx Brothers movie Horse Feathers—in a scene where Groucho Marx, as Professor Wagstaff, attempts to gain access to a speakeasy guarded by Baravelli (Chico). The original dialogue was:
- Baravelli: ...you can't come in unless you give the password.
- Professor Wagstaff: Well, what is the password?
- Baravelli: Aw, no. You gotta tell me. Hey, I tell what I do. I give you three guesses. It's the name of a fish.
- Professor Wagstaff: Is it "Mary?"
- Baravelli: [laughing] 'At's-a no fish!
- Professor Wagstaff: She isn't? Well, she drinks like one! ...Let me see... Is it "Sturgeon"?
- Baravelli: Aw, you-a craze. A "sturgeon", he's a doctor cuts you open when-a you sick. Now I give you one more chance.
- Wagstaff: I got it! "Haddock".
- Baravelli: 'At's a-funny, I got a "haddock" too.
- Wagstaff: What do you take for a "haddock"?
- Baravelli: Sometimes I take an aspirin, sometimes I take a calomel.
- Wagstaff: Say, I'd walk a mile for a calomel.
- Baravelli: You mean chocolate calomel? I like-a that too, but you no guess it. [Slams door. Wagstaff knocks again. Baravelli opens peephole again.] Hey, what's-a matter, you no understand English? You can't come in here unless you say, "Swordfish." Now I'll give you one more guess.
- Professor Wagstaff: ...swordfish, swordfish... I think I got it. Is it "swordfish"?
- Baravelli: Hah. That's-a it. You guess it.
- Professor Wagstaff: Pretty good, eh?
Harpo Marx ("Pinky"), whose characters operated only in pantomime, gets into the speakeasy by pulling a sword and a fish out of his trench coat and showing them to the doorman.
Uses in other works
In the TV sitcom Night Court, judge Harry, disillusioned about his life, goes into an It's a Wonderful Life dream and in the secret club in the courthouse basement, Moose gains entrance by saying Swordfish.
In a sequence of The Bill Dana Show, Don Adams uses a variation of the password joke, telling Bill Dana the password is "swordfish", then not admitting him as he wouldn't actually tell anyone the password.
In the TV sitcom Too Close for Comfort, the Marx Brothers film and password "Swordfish" is mentioned.
This reference was also used in the Disney show Recess, as a password to get into a performing arts club.
In the second-season episode "That Old Gang of Mine" of the TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Lois Lane and Clark Kent enter a secret gambling parlor. Lois tries naming several passwords, including swordfish to the parlor's doorman, but none work. The doorman says he has seen the Marx Brothers movie and sarcastically tells them it was a nice try.
In Arena (1989 film), space fighter Steve Armstrong and his friend Shorty use "Swordfish" as the password to enter the underground casino.
In the premiere episode in 1997 of the television show The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, a character says "What's the password...? And if you say swordfish I'll lose it!" and in the later video game Sam & Max Season One, in a scene during the third episode where the player is given a dialogue selection to guess random passwords, one of the passwords guessed is swordfish.
In the 2001 film Swordfish, "Swordfish" is both the name of a secret government operation and a computer password.
It was referenced in the Robot Chicken episode "Password: Swordfish".
In the 2008 episode "Six Month Leave" of the second season of the TV show Mad Men, Roger Sterling jokes about the password for an illegal casino in New York being "swordfish".
In the 2011 show Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, on the episode entitled "The Wild Brood", the gang is given a clue to the password of the mainframe computer of a dancing swordfish. Fred wrongly guesses it is a dancing bug, while Velma is correctly entering the password as swordfish into the computer.
It has also been referenced in the computer games Impossible Mission (1984), Quest for Glory (1989), Return to Zork (1993), Discworld (1995) and Enter the Matrix (2003), and the online game Kingdom of Loathing as part of the quest for the Holy Macguffin.
In Episode 14, Tiempo de magia (The Time of Magic) of the Spanish series El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time) it reverts to its original use: as a password to a speakeasy during Prohibition, when the team is sent on a mission to 1924 New York.