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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  1. ad -  July 7, 2013 - 8:52 am

    Sorry forgot about this while writing the previous.
    French = Latin + Germanic + Celtic

  2. ad -  July 7, 2013 - 8:43 am

    You’re all wrong about where the term “Pig Latin” comes from. And it really surprises me that no one here has the answer. You’re looking for things that don’t exist, that make no sense whatsoever.

    “Pig meaning vulgair?” That’s just made up bull!
    “Pig comes from Pidgeon?” Really…

    So, let this [uneducated Dutch] guy explain it…

    Where does the American language come from? Anyone? Is it English? It must be only English right? It sounds so the same… No no no.
    Who founded America?! The English right? NO, you illiterate uneducated donkeys! ;) It was the Dutch! Yes the Dutch. There are many many many words in American that have a Dutch origin, but apparently no one these days knows about it. It’s an educational problem though, so not really your fault.

    Here it is. “Pig Latin” comes from the Dutch word “Varkens Latijn”, meaning a lie or fantasy, or something made up. The Americans at one time must have forgot or chosen a different use for the term.

    Also, in the Netherlands [where the Dutch come from], a varken [although they are VERY smart] stands synonymous for dumb, or silly. Just like we would call someone “a stupid Donkey”, or “a dumb Goose”, or “a dumb Cow”. Hmmm, apparently we Dutch like to name dumb people after animals…

    Interestingly, “Pig Latin” could very well come from the old France. Remember history? The Gaul refused to speak proper Latin, that was enforced upon them bythe Roman Empire. That’s how the French language found its origin. A mixture between Latin, English, German and Dutch. These Frenchies… :)
    So “Pig Latin” could have been first used by the Romans, describing the filthy [Pig] Latin language the Gaul spoke.

    Case closed?

  3. Brian -  May 30, 2013 - 7:07 pm

    Iway ovelay yselfmay

  4. ig-pay atin-lay -  July 24, 2011 - 2:59 pm

    wesome-aay! (i think i did it right)

  5. Lilliana -  December 29, 2010 - 3:45 pm

    histay siay wesomeaay

  6. Diane D. -  December 12, 2010 - 4:40 am

    Other code languages like -op- and -ka- sound interesting; I’ll have to try them!

  7. Diane D. -  December 12, 2010 - 4:38 am

    @James Cook on October 5, 2010 — You wrote:
    “ey-hay, i now-kay his-tay anguage-lay!”
    No – not the first LETTER; the first SOUND, so “ow-KNay is-THay”, etc.
    I’m not sure about consonant blends like “SLeep” or “TRy”.

    @OJ on October 6, 2010 at 3:28 am
    “I have spoken pig latin since I was little, and wish to point out that it sould be done per sylable.
    Example, dictionary should not become ictionary-day, it should be (phonetically): icday-onshay-eeray”
    Interesting variation, but definitely less commonly used.
    See Curly Hair’s helpful post:

    Curly Hair on October 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm
    “Actually, the “pig” part is not a mystery at all – it’ s “from the perception of pigs as vulgar” (Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.). I guess some people viewed this jargon as vulgar. ….
    “@sharyn and Rachelle: Words starting with vowels, I believe, only need to have “way” or “yay” inserted at the end. So is becomes is-way or is-yay, I become I-way or I-yay, and empire becomes empire-way or empire-yay. (That’s assuming you do the whole word rather than syllable. There are some who do it by syllable. But most do it by the whole word.)”

    BTW, it’s my understanding that “pidgin” (NOT properly spelled like the bird) generally refers to any semi-intelligible (and often parodied or mocked) version of a language spoken by [uneducated] foreigners when two languages are in “street” contact, e.g. “pidgin Englsh” like “Me heap happy you come here.” or “Missee lookee pretty.”

  8. Edtay -  December 11, 2010 - 3:52 pm

    My uncle use to claim he had a Phd in pig latin. He insisted we refer to him as Octorday Ilpha.

  9. pretzel love -  December 11, 2010 - 2:08 pm

    what about letters that start with vowels??? like itch or elephant? what about other langueges??

    Anks-thay or-fay esonding-ray

  10. Kimudo -  December 11, 2010 - 10:23 am

    It should be noted that it may not have originally been PIG-Latin but pidg or pigeon Latin. A Pidg/pigeon refers to a subset, mutation, morphology, or differentiation of an existing language.

    For example, a Pigeon-English might say “owsyaboudi” (‘ows-yah-boudi”), which is incomprehensible to most English speakers. However, once the phrase has been heard in context, or the translation/meaning heard even once, the message is clear: “How’s your body?” translates to “how are you?”

    Pig-Latin, while remaining obscure, might very well have originated from such a distinction that eventually became a games, stepping away from, but maintaining it’s name.

  11. Marc -  December 11, 2010 - 8:56 am

    I’d heard thugs called Yobbos in Britain, but never made the connection. Thanks.

  12. big-B -  December 11, 2010 - 7:57 am

    has anyone heard of king tut talk? my parents upon realizing we decoded their pig latin swiched to this code where the words seemed to always start with an “S” and ended with a ” BA” sound any hints out there?

  13. Abby -  December 10, 2010 - 4:34 pm

    his-Tay s-iay o-say ool-cay!! I lways-aay ike-lay o-tay alk-tay ike-lay his-tay!!! MOSTLY TAY!!!

  14. mac n cheese -  December 10, 2010 - 2:35 pm

    i-ay ave-hay a-ay ulldog-bay! He-say s-iay o-say ute-cay!!11 he-say s-iay icking-lay e-may ight-nay!!

    Mac n cheese

  15. Luke C -  November 20, 2010 - 2:17 pm

    Is-thay is awesome!!!! Ig-Lay atin-Lay is so much fun!

  16. Kate -  October 26, 2010 - 9:36 am

    Why does everybody think that Pig Latin’s so hard? It’s really not. It’s easy to read, too. One thing i don’t get though, what if the word starts with a vowel?

  17. --GOD'S ANGEL LIYAH-- -  October 14, 2010 - 4:23 pm

    YEAH @Ann I know what you mean!!!! i know two words in pig-latin because someone told me them but it’s hard for me to!!!! And @Curly hair I remember tha zoom talk to!!!

  18. #1 Skillet Fan -  October 11, 2010 - 2:24 pm

    we ave-hay ot-nay oken-spay atin-lay ince-say the igs-pay eft-lay own-tay lol :)

  19. Lee -  October 10, 2010 - 1:47 pm

    I used to speak Pig Latin with my friends when I was a kid without knowing what it was called….I only figured out what it was when my mother tried to teach it to me later.

    To Ivor Justlost: Onay, Iay aven’thay ostlay niay oreverfay!

  20. balasubramanian.G -  October 9, 2010 - 4:41 pm

    Most of the indian mercahnts too follow this method in shops.The merchandise will bear the actual price, price range, discounts possible written in coded language in English or Urdu.The merchant decodes the markings menally and charges the prices.Thereby they bring in a sort of flexibnility where it is posible to earn the customer’s satisfaction as well.

  21. ann -  October 8, 2010 - 12:56 pm

    so whats the pig latin for?just for a game? gee,its hard to use,..

  22. Curly Hair -  October 7, 2010 - 4:18 pm


    Actually, the “pig” part is not a mystery at all – it’ s “from the perception of pigs as vulgar” (Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.). I guess some people viewed this jargon as vulgar.

    I’m surprised that so many people commenting hadn’t known pig Latin before reading this. I thought it was common knowledge, something everyone knew!

    @sharyn and Rachelle: Words starting with vowels, I believe, only need to have “way” or “yay” inserted at the end. So is becomes is-way or is-yay, I become I-way or I-yay, and empire becomes empire-way or empire-yay. (That’s assuming you do the whole word rather than syllable. There are some who do it by syllable. But most do it by the whole word.)

    @Am: Yes, I do remember Zoom! I am fluent in Ubby Dubby, actually. It is quite easy once you get the hang of it. It simply rolls right off your tongue, and you don’t need to think about it. I love it.

    @Saf: I can see why. That sounds, indeed, quite creepy.

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