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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 an esoteric joke, i.e., it is humorous only 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. An example is:

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

This joke is so esoteric that most outsiders could not even confidently guess to which group it might be funny, let alone why. In fact, it is a mathematics joke,[1][2][3] a pun on the name of a famous result, Zorn's lemma.

Ethnic or religious groups may also have their own in-jokes.[4]


In-jokes are cryptic allusions to shared common ground that act as triggers; only those who have shared the common ground provide an appropriate response.[5] An in-joke works 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.[6]

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.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Renteln, Paul; Dundes, Alan (January 2005). "Foolproof: A Sampling of Mathematical Folk Humor" (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society. 52 (1): 24–34.
  2. ^ Vanderbilt University Department of Mathematics (February 5, 2019). "What's Yellow and Equivalent to the Axiom of Choice?".
  3. ^ Singh, Simon. The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets (Reprint edition (October 14, 2014) ed.). Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 978-1620402788.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ Randy Y. Hirokawa and Marshall Scott Poole (1996). Communication and Group Decision Making. Sage Publications Inc. p. 96. ISBN 076190462X.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Ben Tousey (2003). Acting Your Dreams: Use Acting Techniques to Interpret Your Dreams. Ben Tousey. pp. 118–119. ISBN 1-4140-0542-3.