14 Secret Code Words You Might Want to Know

If a Disney cast member or staffer calls you a “treasured guest,” it’s not a compliment.
On a cruise ship, the name ‘Oscar’ has a very serious meaning.
On a cruise ship, the name ‘Oscar’ has a very serious meaning. / Malte Mueller/fStop/Getty Images (cruise ship), Joboy O G/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images (speech bubble)

Some words, when used in specific situations, have deeper meanings than you realize: Whether they’re said over a PA or in a one-on-one conversation, these seemingly innocuous terms are actually codes to alert those in the know that something is up while keeping others in the dark. Here are 14 examples of secret code words that you might hear while traveling, going on vacation, or in your everyday life.

George // Planes

Pilot in cockpit speaking on radio
“George is flying the plane now.” / Juan Silva/The Image Bank/Getty Images

You might hear the expression George is flying the plane now after a certain amount of time has passed during a flight. George doesn’t refer to a person, but to the plane’s autopilot system. “George” is also deployed after a flight spends 10 hours in the air, as FAA regulations state that pilots have to rest after that length of time.

Red Parties, Oscar, and Echo Echo Echo // Cruise Ships

Like other modes of transportation, cruise ships have their own internal codes that are sometimes used in public announcements. The exact terms vary by company, but they might use colors—red parties refers to a fire, for example—or names (on some ships, the name Oscar, which comes from a flag of the same name, is repeated three times to alert staff that a person has gone overboard). Others are more specific to the world of ships: In nautical parlance, echo refers to changing a ship’s course to starboard; on cruise ships, Echo Echo Echo lets staff know that the ship is drifting off course and may be in danger of colliding with another vessel.

Inspector Sands // London Underground

London Underground Strike
Let’s hope you don’t hear anyone calling for Inspector Sands in the London Underground. / Scott Barbour/GettyImages

If you ever hear a public announcement on the London Underground that requests the presence of Inspector Sands, they’re not asking for someone with that name—the term is used to let staff know that a fire alarm has gone off. If they don’t check the alarm within two minutes, the station will be evacuated.

Nora // Malls and Convention Centers

When necessary, staffers at malls and convention centers will use the building’s public announcement system to let other workers know about a crisis. Nora, an acronym that stands for “Need Officer Right Away,” is used in some facilities to request a police officer for help with an aggressive person.

White Envelope and Package for Sandy // UK Supermarkets

UK Daily Life 2024
Tesco and other UK supermarkets have code words that allow people to ask for period products discreetly. / Nathan Stirk/GettyImages

Sometimes, code words can also be used by customers who want to ask for things they feel uncomfortable discussing with strangers. In the last couple of years, some UK supermarkets introduced free period products for people who can’t afford them, as well as code words to request the products: In Tesco, asking for a “white envelope” will discreetly let the staff know what they are looking for, while at Morrisons, they can ask for “a package for Sandy.”

Code Green // Hospitals

Many codes are used in hospitals to prevent alarm and distress in patients and visitors alike. Some of the words involve colors and refer to different kinds of emergencies within the building (think Code Blue, the term used when adults are experiencing cardiac arrest or some other medical emergency), but there are also codes for things happening outside the hospital. Code Green, for example, refers to external events—including natural disasters like hurricanes or tornados—that threaten the safety of staff and patients, and means the hospital staff has to initiate the facility’s emergency response plan.  

Angela and Angel Shot // Bars

In recent years, code words have begun to be used in bars to help people who may be stuck in a dangerous situation. In the UK, they can go to the bar and ask for “Angela” to let staff know they’re in trouble, at which point they’ll help the person make safe arrangements to leave or help them locate their friends. In bars in the U.S., some European countries, and South Africa, a person can ask for an “angel shot” to signal that they need for help.

Treasured Guest, Protein Spill, and White Powder Alert  // Disney Parks

Mickey Mouse waving
Don’t make Mickey issue a white powder alert! / Handout/GettyImages

Theme parks like Disney have their own vocabulary, and at Disney, those terms include some code words. Treasured guest is the superficially polite expression used by staff to refer to visitors who are rude or cause trouble. It’s deployed when staff need to communicate in front of the guest that this person will be difficult to deal with. Other Disney code words include protein spill (for when a guest vomits) and white powder alert (when someone tries to scatter a loved one’s ashes in the park).

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