The wiktionary defines "cahoots" as

collusion or collaboration to nefarious ends

which makes it seem like some villainous or sinister thing, to be in cahoots with someone. Let's say, the hotdogs are sold in jars of 6, but the buns are in bags of 8. So you get two leftover buns and need to buy more hotdogs, and then you have four leftover hotdogs and need to buy more buns. It's rather iniquitous of them to place their consumers in a vicious cycle like that, just to make another sale, so then the hotdog people and the bun people are in cahoots with eachother, aren't they.

But what about using "cahoots" as a more positive term?

"I'm in cahoots with her friends to throw her a surprise bridal shower"

or something. By that, I wanted to say we're being sneaky and secretive about what we're up to. It might involve a white lie here or there, but in the end when it's out in the open she won't care about any of that. Does that work okay or does it seem like an inappropriate word use?

1 Answer 1


If you don't like the definition given in a dictionary, try another dictionary.

NOAD says:

colluding or conspiring together secretly

M-W has a usage note:

Cahoot is used almost exclusively in the phrase "in cahoots," which means "in an alliance or partnership." In most contexts, it describes the conspiring activity of people up to no good.

While Macmillan says:

secretly involved with someone in a dishonest activity or plan

So, some dictionaries would go along with your exception, and others would caution against it.

Personally, I find nothing wrong with your usage; I'd deem it a humorous use of the word, where the context makes it clear you mean it innocently. Your scenario explains the element of secrecy and also makes it clear there is no villainous intent. However, I suppose there's always a chance you might be misunderstood, so I might be inclined to avoid such a usage in, say, a company-wide email, where a pedant might call you on it.

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