An inside joke might be an offhand word or comment that references a shared experience that people in a friendship have had. The comment does not tell the whole story of the experience, but is just enough to let on to one person what specific incident the other is talking about. This phase would probably mean nothing to an outsider, but to someone in the friendship this phrase will cause a glint of recognition in the persons eyes or maybe even make them dissolve into peals of laughter.

I feel that many academics, such as William Rawlins, who study interpersonal communications completely overlook the phenomenon of the inside joke. I think that inside jokes help to strengthen any friendship by recalling shared experiences in language that only the friends would understand.

Yeah so, I'm a communications major, it's actually harder than you think.

Inside jokes are jokes that people with a shared language or history snicker at not only for the comic value, but also of a means of distinguishing themselves from other people. It only becomes an inside joke when someone is left out. Quite often inside jokes are not very funny on their own, but the urge to laugh is heightened by the confusion of the outsiders. In fact, when laughing at an inside joke we are laughing at the people who can't get it. It's like saying, "We know something that you don't."

It can feel really good to have an inside joke, and to share it with a wink and a nod when in a high-pressure situation, but it is important to remember what it's like to be on the outside too. I find it interesting that geeks and other social outcasts (please don't jump on me for name-calling, I am a kind of social outcast myself) often have the greatest number of inside jokes.

At Carnegie Mellon University in a misguided bid for social acceptance I attempted to join the KGB (The KGB is probably the geekiest university club in the world. The name and everything about the club are an enormous, somewhat witty inside jokes related to cold war paranoia, Carnegie Mellon's overly strict computer security and god-knows-what else-- think of it as a more wholesome version of 2600) Becoming a member consists of learning the clubs litany of in-jokes. It's a good bunch of people, the profile of the the typical KGBer is a somewhat unattractive (unattractive in the conventional sense, due mostly to neglect) white male between the ages of 18 and 24 who loves (and studies) computers has no girl-friend and wears black all the time. This description is (of course) a gross generalization. I did not match the profile of a typical KGBer in a few ways and though I attended the meetings for almost a year, learned how to do some neat things with computers and for the most part liked the people. But, I hardly ever laughed at any of the in jokes. For some reason they were not funny to me. I still don't know why, though I suspect it was because I failed to see myself as a member of the group, or because the other members failed to see me as one of them. I quit going to meetings and no one even noticed. I would run in to members on campus and pick up on the in jokes they might tell, but I would not laugh. I wasn't meant to, you see. The one or two times I did laugh everyone else who was laughing stopped.

I mean if outsiders understand your in joke who are you laughing at?

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