6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know


You always knew people were talking behind your back, the treacherous cowards, too afraid to say what they really think in front of you.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Lightwavemedia/Getty Images

"He's delusional and paranoid."

But did you have any idea that people could bend the very laws of reality and talk behind your back to your face?

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

"You're delusional and paranoid."
"I KNEW IT. Or did I?"

This isn't necessarily about your flaws (although it might be). No, it's more to do with people in the service industry using a variety of code words when they need to talk about something without letting the chumps know what's what. (That's one of them.) And here are six others.

Inspector Sands

If you happen to be traveling through England, riding lifts and coaches and mobiles and chippies and fannies about the place, you will probably at some point end up in London in an Underground station. There, if you should hear someone ask over the public address system for "Inspector Sands" to come to the control room, you should know that there is no such person as Inspector Sands, but that in fact there is a fire in the control room.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
Charlotte Erpenbeck/iStock/Getty Images

Except a fire is called a "flammy" in England.

You can see the intent of a code word like this: They're trying to avoid a panic. Underground stations can contain a lot of people, who, if they knew there was even the slightest risk of them suddenly bursting into flames, would quickly transform into the mindless animals they're just barely not as they pushed their way through the cramped, twisting corridors to the nearest exit.

sitriel/iStock/Getty Images

They call it the "Way Out" in England, which doesn't seem that different, although they pronounce it really crazily.

Clubs and theaters have used a similar expression for the same reason, staff making panicked requests for "Mr. Sands" to get to the back room right fucking now. And in the same vein, if you hear a page for "Dr. Firestone" while you're in a hospital, that likely means that the hospital you're in has a fire on the third floor and that you should immediately begin shoving people as you run the other way. Or shove people out of the way as you run toward the danger. Just start shoving, that's the main thing.


If you're visiting a newsroom (let's say for fun that you're there to deliver certain threats and ravings), keep an ear out for someone on a phone or public address system asking, "Could the editor please come to proofreading?" That might sound pretty innocuous to you, but it turns out that newsrooms don't have proofreading departments.

Ingram Publishing/Getty Images

"Iceland? That sounds like a made-up country."

Please save your lamestream media jokes for another occasion, however, because newspapers do in fact still proofread. It's just that that's done at a place called the copy desk. The "proofreading department" is a nonsensical term that someone who doesn't work at a newsroom wouldn't recognize, which makes it an excellent code word to use when a maniac has entered the newsroom and someone needs to call security without alerting him.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
BernardaSv/iStock/Getty Images

"Could the editor come to the dangerous maniac holding pen, please?"
"Are you talking about me?"
"No, it's an industry term. Did you ever see Newsies? It's in there."

Time Check

Yet another in our series of public address code words, each one deadlier than the last. In many stores, if the PA system announces, "This is a time check, the time is 11:45," or something similar, it has nothing to do with the time, because seriously, an IKEA doesn't need to be run on military precision.

goldy/iStock/Getty Images

"Synchronize on 3, 2, 1, now. OK, team. Keep the Fnords tightly stacked, watch out for people shoplifting Mimlafts,
and make sure to push the Yuurps in housewares. Go!"

In fact, "time check" is the code word for employees to begin hunting around for bombs or other unattended packages. You know. The employees making minimum wage. Those ones.

Jochen Sand/Photodisc/Getty Images

"If I die, do I still get paid for the whole hour, or is it pro-rated to the nearest quarter-hour interval? What should my estate put on my time sheet?"

This is quite similar to the Code Adam announcement that many stores use to stop child abductions. Upon hearing that, employees are supposed to close doors and confront anyone who looks like they might be abducting a child, or even anyone with a child.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

"Excuse me, madam, do you have a receipt for that?"

So maybe just keep that in mind if you ever see everyone in a smock sprinting around in a store. If it's toward you, drop any kids you're carrying. If it's away from you, I guess grab a bunch of extra kids and run? Seems reasonable.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know


Most of you probably don't need help getting your computer fixed. Computers in general have gotten a lot more reliable over the past 10 years, and thanks to the Googles, it's now possible to self-diagnose and fix most issues when they do come up. But that wasn't always the case, and especially in workplace settings, non-technical (re: old) people often needed help from the IT department to get their computer fixed. If the IT tech on call was a real dillbag, they might have mentioned that the computer had an ID-ten-T error, which sounds very technical and very bad.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

"Will it ever porn again?"

But when "ID-ten-T" is written out as "ID-10-T," we see what this dicknose of an IT tech was actually saying. They were calling this person an idiot, presumably for wasting their time with a problem that was easily solved. Now, that person very well may be an idiot ...

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
Michael Bellsmith/iStock/Getty Images

"Is it maybe the firewall? I read that word in the newspaper once."

... and indeed the Internet is full of stories of poor beleaguered IT techs having to answer very, very stupid questions about computers. But that's their fucking job, and actively insulting their customer in front of them is pretty obnoxious. Also, "ID-10-T" is an idiot's code, a thousand times less clever than it seems, as are its dorky cousins like "RTFM" (Read the Fucking Manual) and "PEBCAK" (Problem Exists Between Computer and Keyboard). If you ever hear one of these spoken over your shoulder, you can be pretty sure you're speaking with a dick.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
Purestock/Getty Images

"My computer runs on smugness. Does yours? I didn't think so."


This is another one that shows up in grocery stores, although if you hear it, there's no reason to run in fear for your life. Just in fear of justice.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
decisiveimages/iStock/Getty Images

I've noticed that an alarming number of my columns end with people fleeing justice. I'll admit it; it's a worry.

The way this one goes is a cashier innocuously asks their bagger or another cashier if they've "seen Bob." But they're not talking about some dude or an unpopular Microsoft operating system (surprisingly), but are in fact asking their co-worker to check the "bottom of basket," the lower part of your shopping cart, which is hard for a cashier to see. Basically, they suspect you of trying the old shoplifting technique of "forgetting" something in the bottom of your shopping cart.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
Purestock/Getty Images

"Were you going to pay for the $80 worth of Fudgsicles down there, sir?"

This is actually a serious drain on grocery store bottom lines: Studies have shown that the hilariously named "BOB losses" actually cost a grocery store $6 to $10 per lane each day, which adds up quickly. So the stores take it seriously, but use the cute code words so they don't get caught accidentally accusing their regular customers of theft.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
Purestock/Getty Images

"I was going to pay for them, actually. I just couldn't lift them up there because of my crippling diabetes."

Koch's Disease

Doctors have a massive advantage when it comes to speaking in code, in that they essentially already speak in code all day, with a vocabulary that is miles beyond what most of their "customers" have. While they often have an interest in making themselves clear to their patients, they can quickly switch to technical terms or jargon if they need to speak with another doctor without the patient knowing what's going on, or to simply sound less frightening. "Koch's disease" is just one example of this -- another term for tuberculosis some doctors use when discussing a case without wanting to alarm the patient or their relatives.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
tetmc/iStock/Getty Images

"You have acute cerebral vacancy."
"Is it serious?"
"Well, you certainly won't feel any pain."
"Thank golly!"

And that's when the doctors are speaking to their patients, and presumably being respectful to them. This is not always the case. Doctors have a notorious reputation for dark humor, which can include using some shockingly disrespectful terms to refer to their charges. "Beemers" can mean "obese people" (as in BMI). "Frequent flyers" can refer to people who keep visiting emergency rooms. "FTDs" can mean "failure to die," for people who have lived, annoyingly so.

6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know
tetmc/iStock/Getty Images

"So you're still here, huh?" -20 second sigh-

In their defense, doctors deal with death and intense pressure every day, and they have every right to use humor as a release. And sure, an individual sick person deserves respect, but if you had to deal with a hundred of them a day, yeah, they might lose a smidge of their unique humanity in your eyes and the eyes of your colleagues. These kinds of cruel labels seem to get used a lot by people in stressful occupations, soldiers being the most obvious comparison. So if you do overhear one of these labels while visiting a hospital, know that the doctor saying it isn't necessarily a cruel, unfeeling maniac.

She just hates you.

Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and is sure everyone's talking about him behind his back to his face. Join him on Facebook or Twitter to talk to his face to his face.

Scroll down for the next article


Forgot Password?