What exactly is Pig Latin, is it a language? And how is it a mystery?

Pig Latin - what is it exactly?

What language do these words come from: ouch-cay, appy-hay, and ender-tay?

If you guessed Pig Latin, you’re correct.

Pig Latin is not actually a language but a language game that children (and some adults) use to speak “in code.” Pig Latin words are formed by altering words in English.

Here’s how it works: First, pick any English word. We’ll use “dictionary.” Next, move the first consonant or consonant cluster to the end of the word: “ictionary-d.” Now add “ay” to the end of the word: “ictionary-day.” That’s all there is to it; you’ve formed a word in Pig Latin.

We don’t know for certain how Pig Latin got its name, though we do know that the game has nothing to do with Latin. That’s an intentional misnomer.  There is a mention of it in an article published in a magazine in the late nineteenth century. And, supposedly, Thomas Jefferson composed letters in Pig Latin.

Another enigma is the “pig.” No one seems to know why it’s a pig, rather than a squid or a zedonk.

A handful of Pig Latin words are now an accepted part of English slang, such as “ixnay” and “amscray.” (“Nix” and “scram.”)

Other languages have jargons similar to Pig Latin. For example, the Swedes have Fikonspraket, which means “fig language.” The rules are different, but the effect is the same.

Back slang is another English coded language. In back slang, the written word is spoken phonemically backwards. For example, “yob” is “boy.” Back slang supposedly has its roots in the markets of Victorian England, where sellers used it to converse behind customers’ backs.

We expect you have questions about other quirks of English, codes, slangs and such. We welcome your suggestions of topics to explore.

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