The Carnival Museum - The World’s Only Carnival & Circus Museum
Carnivals have long suffered under the stigma of being dishonest, dirty and brutal. In their early days, this was true of many shows. The stigma partly accounts for the development of a carnival dialect that served to distinguish those within the carnival community from those without.
Early carnivals consisted of games and shows, often based on illusions shared by the public: the illusion that you could win every time, that you could acquire something for nothing, that a mermaid could be in a fishbowl, that the local tough could defeat a professionally trained wrestler.
No more do you find freak shows, wrestling shows or fixed games. The carnival has become a mass entertainment industry. Today's carnival is all sound, light, movement and very expensive rides. Carnival owners protect this tremendous investment by running operations on solid, honest business principles.
Few words heard on the midway today would not be understood and recognized by most people. Much of the carnie language is gone. As the carnival has changed, so has the need for a special tongue.
The Carnival Dictionary is not the final word on carnie talk. It is a list of words with descriptive definitions. Many of its entries reflect an attitude towards the public that has gone the way of the old-time carnival. Others reflect an attitude towards human diversity that is also no longer acceptable. The Carnival Dictionary should be read as an historical document, not as an artifact of the current state of the industry.
As an example – King Shows Dictionary – is typical of the 1940s. The King Shows was a small rag bag graft carnival featuring a few rides and many controlled games. It played small still dates and country fairs in Ontario.
“one- , two-, three- and four-abreast” refer to the
arrangement, side-by-side, of horses, cockerels, bicycles, or other vehicles in a Roundabout.
Everything pertaining to the show on its route before it arrives in a town.
The Contracting Agent is the person who gets all contracts signed for a show’s exhibition date.
The General Agent is the person who lays out the route of a show and negotiates for the exhibit date. (On carnivals the general agent also acts as contractor.)
The Special Agent is the person who goes into town ahead of the show and makes final arrangements for the exhibition. (On carnivals this person usually sold advertising banners to the local merchants. )
The concession clerk.
Someone or something sent in advance of the show.
An office “gofer”.
A carnie who stands behind his counter and explains why you missed or, if you hit, why he won’t payoff. Alibi agents were used on such games as Flukey Ball, Bushel Baskets, Six Cats and Darts.
A rustic ; an unsophisticated or inexperienced person, who can be hoaxed easily.
1. TOWNIES. 2. Freaks.
The front gate of a carnival.
Primarily the collective name for modern switchbacks; specifically the term “Noah’s Ark” referred to a circular ride having an undulating track.
Age and Scale Operator.
A carnival midway show featuring athletic contests between boxers and wrestlers carried by the show and local champions or contenders.
The rides and shows of a fair.
As a verb: to attract a crowd to a sideshow by describing the show loudly and sensationally, usually by a barker on a platform in front of it.
As a noun: small gifts of merchandise placed in boxes of candy, Cracker-Jack, etc.
The material covering the front of a bally or concession counter.
A short, free exhibition or sample of a sideshow accompanied by a barker’s spiel, given on a platform or BALLY STAND in front of the side- show tent in order to attract spectators and lure them inside as paying customers.
Specifically, girls who ballyhoo in front of shows to draw tips.
A carnival sideshow; particularly one having continuous or regularly scheduled performances.
The platform in front of a sideshow tent on which a free exhibition or a sample of the show may be performed in order to lure spectators inside.
An informative notice, hung from rafters, sometimes stating the price of the ride, sometimes giving warnings about the ride. Advertising on a FERRIS WHEEL.
A line of banners in front of an attraction .
(Not used by outdoor show people.) A writer’s word for talker, lecturer, spieler, etc. Some “FIRST OF MAY” showman might use the word because they know no better.
To bellow over a real or an imaginary wrong. COOKHOUSE beef isn’ t meat.
On a Roundabout, part of an alternative suspension on galloping horses. Instead of the horse iron passing through the body of the horse and into a groove in the platform or into a platform slide, the underside of the horse is held by these hinge irons fixed to the belly and to the platform itself.
A person who works outside a game of chance to entice players for the game. He “bellys up” to the counter and pretends to play the game.
The original carnival trade paper. Today it is called Amusement Business.
A midway rite wherein carnival couples are united in holy matrimony by both placing their hands on the Showmen’s Bible and saying “I do.”
A woman or girl employed in the carnival .
Literally a motion-picture projector- in the fairground it’s a generic term for travelling booths for the display of motion pictures.
A percentage of monies due or expected. (Mostly expected.)
The opposite of a RED ONE, therefore a loser.
A storm that levels tents and portable equipment.
To lose, as in gambling “to blow one’s money.”
1. A show where a second admission is charged.
2. Closing hour.
A telephone or a concession featuring celluloid balls which must be picked out of an air stream.
The large photographs used on the fronts of tent theatre shows.
Blow Your Pipes
To lose your voice.
Blow Your Top
To go crazy or get mad.
Usually a tent or trailer set up by management to entertain the staff after closing.
Can be used as a noun or a verb meaning a bankroll or to bankroll.
Coin-sized pieces of brass on which the show’s name was stamped, used by old-time carnivals in lieu of WHITE MONEY. The brass could be spent only at the carnival.
Break the Ice
To make the first sale of the day.
The large, loose and cool species of female that either joins or tails the show. Generally a woman of doubtful character.
Three-Card Monte dealers.
Hidden person who operates the gaff on a bucket joint.
1. To send on a wild goose chase.
2. The COOKHOUSE meat.
A burlesque attraction.
To give a performance on a street corner or vacant lot, later passing the hat for a collection of coins.
To short-con or shortchange a customer, usually at the ticket booth. The money made on ticket boxes.
Originally this was a dance performed by American Negroes-a prize of a cake was awarded to the most accomplished performer. In the fairground, it is an amusement device comprising oscillating bridges.
A carnival or a carnival worker.
Labour Day at a big fair.
A collective amusement organization consisting of shows, riding devices, catering, and gaming concessions. A circus may be just one of the shows of a carnival midway.
The clothing of the female half of a couple is thrown from the Pullman car. But this is not “legal” unless it is seen by the car porter.
Originally an equestrian sport practised in Arabia and Turkey during the twelfth century, this later became an elaborate spectacle involving tournaments, finally a Merry-Go-Round or Roundabout.
Carry the Banner
A carnie with no money who has to sleep in a park or to stay up all night because of not having a bed is carrying the banner. A game where balls are thrown into buckets or baskets. Care must be taken to avoid flying balls.
In a show that travels by railroad, these are the show’s sleeping cars.
A caterpillar or any other track type of tractor.
Rebel-yelling, troublesome southern hillbillies.
A Comic Book Idiot, a generally stupid person.
A game with space for people to play on all four sides.
All people not connected with the shows.
A group of numbers printed or painted on a board, used in FLAT SWRES to show the prize for each 202 colour or number. Red numbers are always won by the operator.
To be on the make.
Cheaters or Googs
Check the Lines, To
To count the cash.
A mouse game in which cheese is sometimes used to lure the mice into winning or non-winning holes; also known as Cradle Wheel.
When STICKS surround the MARK, keeping him away from his friends and family.
The Knife Game – hoops are thrown over knives.
A slang term for Billhoard, the weekly publication now called Amusement Business.
The Ferris Wheel.
Chump or Sucker
Any person who isn’ t shifting, drifting and lifting for a living.
A compliment. Carnival barkers would say “give the man a big cigar,” meaning a prize for winning at a game.
Carnival freak-show owners called their attractions circus sideshows.
A circus man or circus worker.
A small-town resident or a rustic; one who can be hoaxed easily; especially to carnival people, the members of the local community in which the carnival is playing temporarily. Also, a fight between carnival or circus employees and local townspeople.
Trimming a sucker, or taking advantage of someone.
The peek joint or strip show.
Someone who tries to pull a prospect away from a game.
Someone who says he can get a show anything it needs, but never does any getting.
Short for confidence, as in “He had my con.”
Operator of a sales or gaming concession.
Merchandise, food, or gaming booths.
A talk, conversation, or conference.
Any lascivious dance such as the hootchy-kootchy.
Boudoir calisthenics performed by female dancers.
A “dancing girl” show where the girls do the COOCH.
A show’s dining facilities, usually an enclosure where show people eat their meals on the show grounds. Most carnival cookhouses also serve the general public.
Cop a Feel, To
A quick grab at portions of passing female anatomy. This is a popular midway sport enjoyed mostly by concession agents.
Cop and Blow, To
To win and leave.
Cop a Royal, To
To make no sales.
Small prizes or BALLYS placed in boxes of candy or Cracker-Jack.
The Bingo concession.
A concession displaying inexpensive merchandise usually designed on a rotating wheel.
Old-time circus GAFF JOINT.
An exhibit where they display guns supposedly used in stick-ups or murders using pictures or wax figures of assorted criminals, posters of the ten most wanted men, handcuffs, etc.
A railroad crossing where the show train is loaded or unloaded .
A circus bee; a derogatory term used by carnies to describe circus workers.
Cup of Mud
A cup of coffee.
The bigger the lies, the better.
An American 25-cent piece, a quarter of a dollar.
The fee the electrician collects for connecting electrical service.
Cut of Flats
A section of flat cars spotted in for loading or unloading.
A discussion of past events (often distorted) by showmen.
The cash register or till.
Any ride in which the public ride through the dark.
A show’s engagement in a town.
A book in which the show’s route is listed.
A dime or 10-cent piece.
Diggers or Crane
A coin-operated, operator-guided (sometimes) grabber that goes after SLUM or sometimes coins or rolled bills, but often just air.
Ladies of questionable virtue that hang around the lot.
A ride with an electrically charged ceiling and a running floor with dirigible cars.
A toilet or restroom .
A spot on the midway that isn’t as good for business as other locations might be.
Man who PUNGS tips in restrooms.
A SHILL or one who, while appearing to be one of the audience, is employed by the management.
The office wagon where money IS handled.
Double Crank Galloper
The double-rank action comprised a mechanism which made the horses gallop and their legs move independently.
Drag the Midway
An early-day practice of some independent showmen on carnival midways of going to the front gate and enticing people down the midway to their attraction.
The name given to a carnival employee who is a know-it-all.
A Motordrome. A silo-like wooden structure where men and women ride motorcycles and small automobiles on the straight up and- down wall.
A GAFF JOINT.
Show, ride, and gate tickets.
A merchandise HANKY-PANK.
A meal ticket. A sack- or box lunch given to the working men when the carnival train had to make an extra long “jump” or DUKEY RUN between towns.
A long move between towns.
Said when everything is O.K.
The Ferris Wheel. See THE WHEEL.
Show with men who impersonate women.
To locate the potential victim’s pocket holding money or valuables.
The section that connects the front wheels to a show wagon, enabling the wheels to turn.
To accuse someone of violating the law, causing him to be arrested.
A showman who is no good.
First of May
An expression used for one just commencing in show business.
This can either be a person who makes arrangements for the show or one who can handle and take care of small legal and insurance problems that may crop up.
The prize merchandise, particularly the fabulous prize.
An illuminated wheel.
Flashing Their Joints
Getting the games ready for the marks.
Pertaining to or associated with any carnival gambling game, especially one in which money, rather than merchandise, is the prize.
1. A carnival gambling or game concession or booth in which one plays for money, not prizes.
2. A gambling or game concession.
3. A crooked gambling or game concession, implying that “flat” means a wheel of chance that is weighted or not perfectly circular.
GYP joints set up solely for the purpose of taking the marks as quickly as possible.
The operator of a FLAT STORE.
An exhibition of (apparently) performing fleas.
1. A virtuous KIP in a carnival sleeper.
2. To beg on city streets by sitting on sidewalks.
In pre-bottled-drink days, this was midway-mixed soft drinks. It was said that what wasn’t sold was used to disinfect show sleepers (bunkhouses), or for developing fluid for mug joints.
One who remains in a certain vicinity. A short jump by road.
A fairground type of dance hall where girls dance with the customers at so-much-a-dance and steer men to the bar to buy drinks.
Frame a Joint
To construct a concession.
An exhibition of human or animal freaks, now declining in popularity.
1. The front of a midway show or attraction.
2. An individual’s personal appearance and clothing.
The entrance to the midway.
The tent specifically set up for the private and exclusive use of show employees to BLOW their money gambling after closing.
1. A cheap place of amusement, specifically the stance or showground where fairs are held.
2. The control on a concession operation.
Something fixed or crooked.
A rigged or crooked joint.
A seller of novelties at a carnival.
A novelty booth.
A ROUGHIE or staff person, usually temporary, who erects and dismantles the rides and games and is hired solely because of availability – sometimes called “Boy.”
A snake-eating wild man. The snake is pushed into the geek’s face who bites its head off and spits it out. He doesn’t actually eat the snake; for that see GLOOMING GEEK.
A person whose nerve lies in his boss’s name. The booking agent.
A ride and show combined. At discreet intervals, dummy trains carrying no more than two passengers and running on an energized rail- penetrate the darkened booth. A labyrinth of hair-raising spectacles, optical tricks, and surprises tactfully await them.
A show that moves by rail. All equipment is moved to and from the train by wagon.
To handle by manpower alone, or to move in a vehicle not built for the equipment being moved.
A carnival that is transported by train and offloaded into wagons before being set up. Such carnivals might carry Ali Baba and his forty sticks, two cooch dancers, and a big contempt for rubes.
Any trick, secret device, or gadget by which a pitchman, gambler, or the like cheats the public or stimulates business.
The crystal maze and house of mirrors.
One who sells plain glass (as opposed to prescription) eyeglasses.
Performers in girl shows.
Glom or Glim, To
A GEEK who uses his hands TO GLOM the thing he is going to eat instead of having it pushed in his face. He appears to like it and chews it up well, not spitting it out like an ordinary GEEK.
Goes to the Barn
When the show goes into winter quarters it “goes to the barn.”
A rustic; a person easily duped; an easy mark.
Grab Joint or Grease Joint
A centrally located snack stand that sells PALE-MEAT sandwiches, and orange- and lemon-flavoured “Sani-Flush” drinks, known as internal douches.
An inexperienced worker.
Concessionnaires who operate controlled concessions.
A person who has a certain “set spiel” or sequence of words that he delivers from the front of a midway attraction as long as the show is open. If a show has BALLYS, the spiel is a “grind”. Ticket sellers “grind” as they sell tickets.
A BARKER who talks, often continuously, in front of a sideshow about the show inside.
One that keeps going from the minute it opens until it closes.
A game where more than one person participates.
1. Inferior, uninteresting; boring; disliked; disagreeable.
2. A pitchman who sells miracle glue that is reputed to join any broken item or materials.
Chickens (of the fowl variety) .
One who operates the device which controls the game, for example, a BUCKET GUNNER.
A young boy.
The “G” stands for gaff.
One who uses shrewd, unethical business methods; a swindler, a cheater.
A sideshow performer who claims to be half-woman, half-man.
A game of skill that caters to young and old alike; small prizes.
Silver money; coins.
One who is stubborn or prone to anger.
Have the X, To
A concessionaire who has contracted for the exclusive privilege to operate a game or for the exclusive use of a prize item.
Head of the Store
The joint operator who thinks he is boss and hopes to get the first count of his game.
The health inspector.
Trouble with people who are not carnies. Can be with the law or with people incensed over their losses on the games. Most of the “heat” in the “good ol’ days” was generated by the games, the AT SHOWS or the “strong” dancing girls.
The act of taking care of an old and buxom widow with money.
A low-grade PITCHMAN; a SHILL.
Heel, To; or Heel the Joint, To
To walk out without paying. This expression applies to people who take advantage of situations to walk out of restaurants or hotels without paying their bills.
1. To raise or lift something while using actions that make it seem much heavier than it actually is.
2. To stage a stick-up.
A piece of outdoor-show advertising paper printed on coloured newsprint. The herald was designed to be given to a person directly, placed in automobiles or front doors, or mailed to box numbers.
1. CLEM’s little brother.
2. A fight between carnival workers and townspeople when the townspeople believe they have been cheated or because they dislike the attitudes and actions of the carnival outsiders. Never actually used by carnies, this is a term for the media.
A long vertical timber with a bell on the top of it. A weight which travels on a track fastened to the face side of the timber may be propelled upward by the player striking a hinged lever device with a wooden maul.
The rear trouser pocket.
Holdout, often referred to as Harry Oliver, a term used when operating a game of questionable merit, in which legitimately won prizes might not be handed over.
Cheap, sugary candy, cheap souvenirs, any cheap useless items such as is sold at carnival booths.
Generally any round stall, but specifically a game in which the player has to ring his prize with a hoop.
A mildly lascivious form of dance exhibition in which a woman sways or rotates her hips and body.
One who jumps from one show to another.
The rods on which roundabout horses are suspended.
A show using horses.
Something that has been stolen is “hot”.
Hotter ‘n a Pistol
Used mostly in reference to concessions that have caused complaints.
The transformer wagon.
A sky pilot or minister.
A portable radio.
Ikey Heyman Axle
A wheel game with a brake on it so the agent can stop the wheel wherever he wants to. The GAFF.
A magic show that features illusions such as the headless girl.
In the Doniker
To be in a bad location.
Griddles in the cookhouse.
When a law officer scrutinizes one closely he is “jacketing”. This can also refer to a bawling out.
A out-of-line carnie employee.
A tattoo artist.
A beautiful, generally well-built, teenage girl.
The act of allowing everyone into a show on a reduced price ticket for a period of time after a BALLY has ended.
A form of direct sale in which merchandise is sold at unbelievable prices in order to give the public an opportunity to spend money on completely unwanted or unneeded goods.
A Merry-Go-Round or Roundabout.
A no-good person.
Blacks or black carnival workers.
A minstrel show.
A good-looking man who can attract the ladies.
In North America this refers to any kind of carnival stand. In other parts of the world, it is a slang term for a gathering place. On the fairground it is used as a generic term for any form of portable sideshow of the ground booth variety. Walkup shows, which have raised platforms for the performers, are not so described.
A soft-drink tent, stand, booth, or concession.
Going to the next spot. The move between towns.
Jungle Up, To
To dine with fellow carnies in their living quarters.
Keyster or Keister
A satchel, hand baggage.
Key to the Midway
The old prank of sending a GREEN MAN somewhere to ask for a mythical key, as in the key to the city.
To talk things over in idle conversation.
1. A sideshow.
2. The pants pocket where large and small amounts of money are inventoried.
The centre mast or masts, of a circus “Big Top.”
Bed. This might also be a verb.
Kip and Dip
A room with a bath.
Anything satisfactory is “kosher.”
A HOOTCHIE COOTCHIE attraction .
Something is “larry” when it is no good, a bad date or bad merchandise.
A form of “Pig Latin” used by some young carnies to impress the town MARKS.
This might be a noun or a verb. Euphemisms abound, as in a ” one-night stand” or “to score”. Basically, it’s either the act of sexual congress or it can be said of one of the partners, as “she’s a good lay.”
Laying the Note
A type of swindle done by petty larceny thieves.
Lay of the Land
The main feature in a girlie dance show.
The covering for a concession counter painted with the game on which customers lay the money they’re gambling.
To give out news or plans before the official announcement.
The inside talker in a show.
Most North Americans move to the right, so carnival midways are laid out to take advantage of this habit. Shows catering to children are always spotted on the right hand side, if possible. Shows for the sports are in the backend.
A store or JOINT in the line, as opposed to one in a central position.
A set-up JOINT.
A bar in a bar-room.
The ground where carnivals are held .
The opening of the show.
Locals who arrive early and stay late without spending, or ladies that hang out on the show for better or for worse.
A constant borrower.
Lug Him Out, To
To take a mark away.
Liquor and beer.
The trailer where the fair’s management and directors are plied with booze.
An habitual drinker.
The glass ball used by a crystal-gazer.
Hyla F. Maynes’ Fun House was the original Magic Carpet. Later the name came to mean something else. Old-time showmen always went to the Sherman Hotel when in Chicago, usually at convention time. There they met other showmen in the lobby. The carpet there became known by all showmen as the magic carpet because it was where many deals were made. The name carries on to this day, but at other hotels and in other cities.
Designated by smart carnies and circeys as a man to be trimmed.
Michigan Bank Roll
Phoney bank roll with a few dollar bills on the outside, wrapped around a lot of paper.
An artificial promise; usually a chance on last year’s sweepstakes.
A press agent who reports the news. Most of them write bad weeks into RED ONES.
The custard machine’s location.
As the name implies, a labyrinth of mirrors, plain and distorting, with clear glass thrown in to add to the confusion.
The fortune telling JOINT.
A fortune teller of either sex. “Mitt readers” were mostly aged females too old for other work.
One of several small dummies set up to be knocked over by baseballs at a carnival tent; hence a stupid person.
One who steals clothes from clotheslines.
Four Singles: $4
Double Sawbuck: $20
Half A Yard: $50
Yard Note: $100
Half A Gee: $500
A Grand or A Gee Note: $1000
Kuter or Two Bits: 25¢
Half or Four Bits: 50¢
Smesh: Small coins like nickels, dimes, and quarters.
Folding Stuff: Paper money.
A average man; one who is not a hobo, with a carnival, or on the GRIFT.
A carnival-goer; a MARK.
The JUMP between towns on the show’s route.
A cheap, dirty, rundown carnival.
A tent, booth, or gallery in which one’s photograph is taken and printed in a short time.
A rubber-tired tractor used to spot empty wagons and load the show train.
An umbrella .
An expense or a privilege of the show. Money paid for the privilege of operating a concession.
To warn with a noise similar to that made by hacking or clearing one’s throat; the show’s business headquarters.
Office Show or Office Ride
One owned by the midway owner, therefore not an independent attraction.
On the Erie
To eavesdrop. Also known as “South of Pen” as South of Pennsylvania which is where the Erie Railroad may be found.
On the Lam
To depart without saying goodbye or giving notice.
Operating from Fence to Fence
The entire fairground, from one fence to another is under control of the carnival.
A GEEK who doesn’t actually eat snakes, he maybe just bites the heads off chickens and rats. They usually have to be drunk or hopped up, and they usually spit the heads out afterwards.
An anemic hamburger.
This can be either advertising for the show or passes. You never say you have “papered the town” when you have put up advertising paper. You say you have “billed the town.” A “papered town” has a disproportionate number of passes given out. A “papered house” means almost all of the patrons are there on free passes.
One who passes counterfeit money.
A legal adjuster or fixer. One who settles complaints.
A fall guy or one who is set up to take blame or to have something put over on him.
A supposedly private or surreptitious view, usually through a hole in the wall or tent, of nude women or lewd scenes. Once this was a traditional part of small carnivals.
A percentage game, that is, a gambling or gaming wheel where the game keeps an average percentage of the take.
Peek the Poke, To
To see what kind of bills some MARK is carrying.
A peddler, street vendor, or auctioneer of cheap or imitation jewellery.
A medicine pitchman.
Babies, usually deformed, in bottles, also referred to as “cough-up skeletons,” which are exhibited in embryo shows.
The snack bar on a show train . The dining car where all meet en route.
The riding devices . More particularly the heavy flat type of ride.
A business or social type of conversation.
A small canvas enclosure in which acts are performed or where animals, human oddities, snakes and other reptiles are exhibited. The spectators stand around the four sides of the pit and look down into it. A pit show with one pit is a SINGLE-O, one with ten pits is a TEN-IN-ONE.
A sales concession where merchandise is sold outright after a sales man has given a demonstration.
A person who operates a PITCH concession. The candy salesmen in “gal” shows are “candy pitchmen.” A pitchman who works on an elevated platform is a “high pitchman.” Pitchmen use the word KEYSTER for the small case many of them worked from.
Pitch Till You Win
Eating places where you eat all you want.
A coloured minstrel show or plantation show.
A lien , writ, or legal attachment.
A small “single-a” attraction presented on an elevated platform under a small canvas top.
To show an engagement in town or at a fair.
Playa Bloomer, To
To do no business on a date. This might also be to “playa blank.”
Play the Streets, To
To set up on the streets and sidewalks for an engagement.
To ask for donations; to mooch.
A good date.
Poke a Tip
To give a free show or free gifts to attract a crowd.
A labouring man who steers wagons being loaded or unloaded from railway flat cars.
Electrical generators or transformers.
The blower in a funhouse that lifts skirts .
To push someone out of a TIP or play by shoving him with one’s buttock; to beat someone by short-changing them.
The permission to operate; a set fee, usually based on the front footage of the concession.
A dining car on a show train which has slot machines and games for the show people only, often the PIECAR.
The frozen custard truck.
Publicity stories that glorify a performer’s ability or experiences.
Swing-ride seats on chains that rotate on the ends of sweeps.
A small town or rural community; a rustic place; a town in the sticks. PunIc A boy or girl associated with the show.
A day during which children are admitted to a carnival or circus free; children’s day.
A town boy or girl. Punk.
A worker who chases under-age kids from in front of a gaming concession while the play is on.
Put Him on the Send
To get more money from someone.
Put on the B
“B” meaning BITE. To ask for money in summer this will be considered a loan, in winter, when times are tougher, it’s a donation.
Put on the Hype
To increase prices over and above normal, as was often done by hotels during fair week.
Any kind of concession at a carnival of questionable character.
Cheap, dirty, rundown, and/or crooked carnivals.
A show which travels by railroad on its own train consisting of flatcars and sleeping cars.
A train hand.
A licence to do business, especially for holding a road show or selling pitchman’s merchandise.
Reading a Shirt
Hunting for “seam squirrels” or fleas.
Concession space. The buyer “owns” only the silt on top of the ground; by another year that will wash or blow away and he’ll have to buy more “real estate.”
Red Light, To
To push a person off or out of a moving railroad train; to kill someone by so doing.
A winner; so named from red numbers, winners on FLAT-STORE CHARTS.
To become a partner in a show or a ride without an investment by not handing out a ticket when money is received, pocketing that money, then selling that ticket again.
Selling tickets for another turn to persons already on rides.
A rustic, a rube, or hick.
Ride the White Horse, To
To be glorified in a publicity story.
One who controls or owns a ride.
The preferred location for early opening shows that cater to children and the family trade.
Ring the Bell, To
To succeed, to meet with approval, or to make a hit with someone.
Street wise or able to look after oneself while on the road, travelling amongst strangers. Also known as having a smart-money education. Post-graduates often sleep in suckers’ barns, having been too smart for their own good.
An office AGENT who gathers up money from ticket boxes and takes it to the office.
A concession in which numbered or coloured balls roll down a runway; often the operator controls the success of the player.
A low-paid helper on a ride.
A working man.
A girl who KIPS only with working men.
Rounding Board or Roundings
On a wheel game, a continuous label to the spinning frame; in architectural terms, a fascia which forms the rim of the wheel. The “roundings” refers to the complete assembly including rounding boards, dropper, and, in more elaborate machines, the upper component, the dome.
Any circular JOINT or stall.
To chase away.
A noun meaning the list of towns and events played each season; a verb meaning the laying-out of a season’s play dates.
Cards listing the show’s play dates in advance.
Those who live in house trailers.
A term only used by the circus meaning a resident of any town or city in which the circus is showing; hence a member of the public, a townsman.
The move between show dates or towns.
Wooden platforms in front of concessions or JOINTS.
Running a G off the Top
To be paid a percentage of the gross.
Named after Frederick Savage, the originator of the design, this refers to the three-rail system for carousels.
Scoff, To; or Skoof, To
To eat. “Scoff” also can mean breakfast in bed.
To get a large amount of money.
Scratch or Line
Money. May include both HARD and SOIT. Soft is preferred.
To eke out a living; to earn just enough to buy necessary food and shelter; to live from hand-to-mouth.
To erect the stands, rides, or shows.
If a raid is made after a fix or bribe has been paid, it is a “shake” or a double-cross by officers.
The lot man who collects payment for shavings.
Another name for the Coconut Shy, ” to shy” meaning to throw sideways with a jerk.
Men or women who sell subscriptions to magazines.
An upper berth.
One who pretends to play a game or to buy a ticket to an attraction in order to entice others to follow him.
A stupid person; one with little brain-power.
A person not worth much consideration.
The operator of a carnival booth, usually the ticket booth, who is skilled at cheating customers by returning to them less than their proper change.
An electrician .
The office secretary he’s advertised for when they want him to join, and because he’s often accompanied by the show’s profits, he may be advertised for after he leaves.
A linear arrangement of sideshows.
The canvas walls around a tent show.
The ferris wheel.
The merry-go-round or carousel.
Working to one customer at a time; a single show.
FREAKS with skins like alligators.
To close quickly because the law is coming or because the law is closing the show.
Cheap merchandise, on the smallish side, such as jewellery or gilded plaster bookends, sold at stands or given as prizes in games of chance or skill.
A built-up billboard belonging to a local plant.
A company that owns and services the billboards (“snipes”) in an area.
Paper money, bills.
The knife show or CHIVE RACK operator.
1. An engagement, fair, or celebration.
2. To locate a ride on the lot. To guide the wagons to their designated spot.
To go to one’s KICK for more money. To make an offer to purchase something.
A cry used by onlookers when one goes to his sock for more money.
To be released from jail by the show’s PATCH.
The length of the show’s date is referred to as a stand; as in “one-day stand.”
1. Outside support, VAGS with alibis.
2. A shill or an accomplice to the show who’s somewhere in the crowd. Sometimes sticks work in pairs.
A concession stand constructed of timber or a stand which is not a trailer.
An engagement not backed by a fair or agricultural board. The show arranges to set up by itself in a shopping mall or park.
A form of carousel in which fixed horses, sometimes in a galloping stance, are mounted on the platform.
Any ride which allows one to so move one’s hands under cover of darkness, the Caterpillar, for example.
The COOKHOUSE operator.
See BELLY STICK. Members of the tribe may carry dimes in trouser cuffs.
Another name for a JOINT.
Change forgotten at a ticket window by purchasers.
See HIGH STRIKER.
A long line of horses, animals, objects, or things.
An open-front show with a long line of canvas banners.
The practice of removing and loading decorative portions of fronts, rides, and equipment before the engagement ends.
To work a game or games for excessive amounts of money.
A dirty show, one with few holds barred, including audience participation, a strong performance is often called “serving lunch.”
A clean show or operation or a carnival midway that never allows crooked games or dirty GAL SHOWS to operate on its midway.
In a ride that moves on a long arm, the arm is called the “sweep.”
To steal. Also see PUKER.
Swing With Something, To
To take something without the owner’s consent.
Take a Powder, To
To leave without giving notice.
Take it on the Arthur, To
To run away.
The man who does the outside talks and lectures in front of an attraction was the “talker,” never the BARKER in an outside show.
Money received from merchants in exchange for banner advertising.
Dismantling the midway at the end of an engagement.
Any showman who rents ground for his amusements from a fairground lessee.
Ten shows under one roof
The canvas awning to any amusement device, presumably so called because of the angle of inclination designed to act as a water shed.
Those structural members that carry the tilt. Awning rods.
A STICK or SHILL on concessions.
Painted ladies of the tenderloin; DIRTY LEGS.
A crowd of prospective customers.
A pitchman or carnival barker.
Phoney money used to purchase the wares of ladies of the night.
The total fairground complex. Its planning, organization, and induced atmosphere. More specifically, the layout of rides, booths, and JOINTS.
T. & K. Man
T for tripod, K for KEYSTER; a talker who works the front of shows and whose sole purpose is to bring the public into the attraction.
A person’s posterior.
Took the Fence
TO BLOW with the receipts of the show, ride, or concession.
A tent used in a carnival.
A resident of a town in which the carnival is playing. A carnival spectator.
An outdoor show or performance.
A person who has spent at least one full season with some type of travelling amusement organization.
A story that is true, even if a bit on the long side.
The seats of many of the riding devices.
Tunnel of Love
Almost any amusement device incorporating a ride through a darkened tunnel- the connotations are obvious. See also STINK FINGER.
Customers that patronize hood covered rides, such as Rocky Road to Dublin and the Caterpillar.
Bad or losing show.
Turning the Duke
Short changing someone.
Turning the Tip
Raking in money.
An agent who travels ahead of the show to arrange for the show’s arrival and appearance.
Outdoor showmen are prone to add the word “up” to other words without changing the meaning of the word added to, for example, an eight-horse team is referred to as an “eight-up.”
A vagrant, hobo, or drifter.
Money acquired by a ticket seller by shortchanging the public.
A show of sorts, or funhouse. The MARKS move in and out without sitting down.
To hand money to another.
1. Big Eli was not a person, but a ride: the Ferris Wheel. Originally manufactured by the Eli Bridge Company, the first Ferris Wheel was a monster, more than a hundred feet high exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair.
2. This also can refer to the roulette or game wheels.
A midway theme song.
A girl who faints in front of a GEEK to draw patrons into the tent.
A telegraph delivery boy.
The term is the ultimate compliment. If you are “with it,” you have the very best interest of the show at heart. An expression whereby carnies may know each other even though they have never seen each other before. Warning do not attempt to use this word unless you have been instructed in the proper delivery of it.
Regular coins of the United States and Canada with which the old time carnivals were apt to pay their employees only when they were doing good business.
The question, ” Will we work tonight?” implies not labour, but larceny.
To sell advertising space that is generally never published.
This expression means “exclusive” and conveys the knowledge that in the purchase of a concession privilege, there will be no competition from similar attractions or joints.
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