Circus Slang for Gauchos.
September 25, 2008 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Every trade has a history, a culture and secrets, all most vividly expressed in the special terms used by its workers. The circus is, of course, no different as this handy dictionary of circus slang shows. It contains entries for both American and European circuses, and has a handy list of vaudeville slang words as well. These unique words used on the carnival lot around the world demonstrate a language that defines a world of wonders, and now you can use them to impress your friends and insult your enemies!
posted by Effigy2000 (14 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Great Stuff. I try to attend the annual Sideshow Gathering in Pennslyvania each year, so this is right up my alley. Quite a bit seems lifted from James Taylor's Shocked and Amazed and Memoirs of a Swordswallower by Dan Mannix, though. (On a side note, I have all of the original autographs on publicity still, with the exception of Dolly and certain unnamed Mefite)
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 4:07 PM on September 25, 2008

That would be original Jim Rose troupe. Dang.
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 4:09 PM on September 25, 2008

June Tabor performing "Pull Down Lads," a gorgeous song with much British carnie slang. (lyrics)
posted by neroli at 4:52 PM on September 25, 2008

Disaster March. Scroll down a little. Gleaned from Water for Elephants.
posted by fixedgear at 5:04 PM on September 25, 2008

Minger — Policeman. Most Romani terms for the trades end in some variant of "-engro.'

Fascinating stuff. Ta.
posted by mandal at 6:18 PM on September 25, 2008

This will come in handy for my Discworld fan-fic featuring the Clown Guild!
No, it's better if you didn't ask.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:05 PM on September 25, 2008

This post is alfalfa.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:10 PM on September 25, 2008

Okay, I would have to say that I am somewhat of an expert on at least some of the carney stuff. My dad and his dad and his dad's dad were professional carnies for most of their lives. My dad and the rest of my family travelled from Florida in the late spring to Tennessee and then on to Canada for the other half of the year. He played the Red River Exhibition in Winnipeg, the Calgary Stampede, fairs in Edmonton, and finally in Regina. He was the manager of the family business, Sullivan's Concessions, and sold fiddle sticks, cotton candy, snow cones, popcorn, candied and caramel apples, funnel cakes, and more at each of these fairs and several others in the United States. We lived in a trailer on the fairgrounds at each of these locations for six months out of the year. Nothing but junk food, rides, fireworks, rodeos, and carney antics for me. It was quite a life. If you want pictures, I am sure that I have plenty of them.

In any case, I travelled around with him through Canada for the first 13 years of my life and then only through the US locations until I was about 17. He sold the business when I was 19 or 20 I believe. I must say that I don't recall hearing very many of of the slang words that I read on the Carney/Sideshow pages. It seems that most of them pertain to the sideshow and midway (games and rides) much more so than they do the concessions areas or exhibition areas of the fairgrounds. I could run these past my dad to see if he is familiar with ones that I am not. But one that I have a lot of familiarity with is this one:

Gibtown — Gibsonton, Florida, retirement spot (or winter quarters) for many show people. Pioneered by Jeannie (the "half-girl") and Al Tomaini (the giant), a married couple who retired from show business to open "Giant's Camp" fishing camp there.

Our winter home was in Tampa and we often travelled down to Gibtown in order to visit the yearly exhibitions of new stands and food stuffs. They also featured new "garbage" to serve as midway game prizes and new games. We children were of course permitted to sample the games as much as we wanted, much to our juvenile satisfaction. I attribute my eventual video game skills to my carney upbringing.

This also reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from The Better of McSweeney's:

I am currently at an amusement park convention – that is, a convention for those in the amusement park business. Almost immediately upon entering the convention, I found myself in front of a booth full of stuffed animals, the kind you can win as prizes.
“So,” I said to the proprietor, “how much do all these cost?”
“Between fifty cents and $2.50,” he said.
There was a long pause.
“Where do they come from?” I asked.
“China,” he said. “We buy them from factory close outs.”
Another long pause.
“I always wondered where they came from,” I said.
“China,” he said.

- Tim Carvell
posted by inconsequentialist at 7:15 PM on September 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

i found the name for my last band here (in the Vaudeville section). It was called 'silo circuit'. we were debating between that and 'borscht belt'. Great site.
posted by sredefer at 9:55 PM on September 25, 2008

I've been debating with myself for some time whether to rewire my vocabulary so I speak entirely in pirate talk or in hardboiled gangster slang. Now I think I'll just John Robinson the bilge as a trip for biscuits.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:37 PM on September 25, 2008

Interesting. The british carnival slang has at least a few words "bona" for "good," and "shush" for "steal" in common with Polari.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:26 PM on September 25, 2008

I'm a tad confused. The title refers to circus slang, but everyone speaks of carnivals. Is the language the same, or is the title mistaken?
posted by Goofyy at 12:42 AM on September 26, 2008

Great find.
But, fer chrissakes, couldn't you have put a "Comic Sans Overdose" warning up-front?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:01 AM on September 26, 2008

I wonder where Robert A. Heinlein's fondness for carnival slang came from?
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:16 AM on September 26, 2008

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