12 'X-Files' Terms and the Truth Behind Them

David Duchovny in 'The X-Files.'
David Duchovny in 'The X-Files.' / Getty Images/GettyImages

Good news, X-philes! Your favorite conspiracy show is returning to television for a six-episode “event series.” It’s been a while since The X-Files ended, so here’s a refresher on 12 terms from and about the show.


The mysterious and menacing Cigarette Smoking Man, or CSM, is Mulder's nemesis and a member of the Syndicate, the secret organization behind the alien conspiracy.

The CSM has had some name changes over the series. At first he's referred to as Cancer Man, but in season three, Mulder calls him Skinner’s “cigarette-smoking friend." Season four aired an episode called “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man,” and later that same season, Mulder calls him “cigarette man.” In season six, he's finally called “cigarette smoking man.”

Why Cancer Man became Cigarette Smoking Man is unclear, although there’s speculation that show creator Chris Carter did so to avoid offending the tobacco industry.


Deep Throat is the alias of a Syndicate member who is also an informant to Mulder. His pseudonym comes from the real-life Deep Throat, a Watergate informant who in 2005 was revealed to be FBI associate director Mark Felt. Felt took his nom de guerre from the 1972 porn film of the same name. After The X-Files’ Deep Throat is killed, an informant named X replaces him. This could be an homage to the informant Mr. X in Oliver Stone’s JFK, which, Carter has said, inspired the Deep Throat character.


Greys is common vernacular for a kind of alien also known as Grey aliens and Roswell Greys. The term seems to have originated in the 1980s. In the X-Files universe, Greys are also known as Colonists, extra-terrestrials who want to colonize the Earth. Faceless aliens are shapeshifting renegades opposed to the Colonists (although why is not clear) while super-soldiers are aliens that have taken over human bodies, have tremendous strength, and will stop at nothing to ensure no human survives alien colonization.


The Lone Gunmen are a trio of conspiracy theorists who publish a magazine called The Lone Gunman. They take their name from the lone gunman theory, which says Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating John F. Kennedy. Conspiracy theorists believe otherwise.


The idea of ebony-clad men appearing after UFO sightings originated in the 1950s, according to Live Science. Albert Bender, a UFO enthusiast and magazine publisher, claimed that “he had been visited by ‘three men wearing dark suits’ who ordered him not to continue publishing information about flying saucers.”

Folklorist Gray Barker wrote about Bender’s story in the 1956 book, They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers, which describes “three men in black suits with threatening expressions on their faces.”

The X-Files’ Men in Black were played by professional wrestler-cum-governor Jesse Ventura and game show host Alex Trebek.


Monster of the Week, or MOTW, refers to one-off episodes that weren't part of the larger UFO storyline, and include "The Jersey Devil"; "War of the Coprophagous" (a coprophage is a dung-eater, in this case, a cockroach); and "Home," a highly disturbing account of the, shall we say, close-knit Peacock family.

The term monster of the week may have originated in the early 1970s. This 1976 magazine mentions the phrase as does this book from 1985, which connects it to the 1960s Japanese TV show, Ultraman, which featured a different monster nearly every episode.


A phrase that should definitely be used more often, to Mulder something out means to figure out a secret, a cover-up, or a conspiracy. Science fiction and fantasy author Jim Butcher uses the phrase in his 2003 novel, Death Masks: “You guys stay here and Mulder it out.”


A viscous alien virus also known as black oil and black cancer, Purity “thrived in petroleum deposits” on Earth and “was capable of entering humanoids” and controlling their bodies. Fans dubbed the oily alien Oilien.


To Scully means to behave like the skeptical half of the X-Files duo, namely by explaining away potentially paranormal phenomena with science and logic. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the first to use Scully in this way. “I cannot believe that you of all people are trying to Scully me,” Buffy tells Giles in the 1997 episode, “The Pack.”


A term that comes out of X-Files fan fiction, a shipper is someone who wants platonic fictional characters to have a romantic relationship. Those against Mulder and Scully being more than FBI friends were known as noromos, short for “no romance.” Shipping now refers to wanting any two people to get together, for example: “How much did we all start shipping Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emma Watson when they walked out onstage together?”


In case you’re wondering, the FBI doesn’t really have an X-files, but the Washington State Legislature does. Although probably named for the show, Washington state's X-files isn’t about UFOs or other unexplained phenomena but “bills that will go no further in the process.” X-files is also slang for a type of ecstasy as well as haemorrhoids. Apparently, X-files is Cockney rhyming slang for piles, which are, you guessed it, haemorrhoids.


An X-phile is an X-Files fan, where the suffix -phile means “one that loves” and is a pun on file. The term seems to have originated in the mid-1990s.