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Carny Slang

Have you ever wondered what some carny slang words mean? Like other organizations, carnivals have a jargon all their own.

Definition of Terms

Before we get into carny slang, let's define "carny" and "carnival". A "carny" is a slang term in North America for a person who is employed by a carnival. Carnivals, as we are referring to them, are outdoor games, booths, rides, shows, and concessions. They travel from town to town, setting up on parking lots or grassy areas.

Carny Slang

Here are some words that all refer to the same thing associated with a carnival:

Terms for Cheating the Boss

  • Going South - Stealing money, called "south" because some of the money goes into the apron worn by the carnival worker

  • Oach - To skim some money from your take and not give them to the boss

  • Swing - To steal money from your boss

Words for Players

Two words for visitors to the carnival are cake eaters and locals.

  • Mark - A townsperson you pick out as a victim

  • Other terms for naive and gullible marks are called Chump, Mooch, Clem, Emby

  • Lugen - A really dumb mark

  • Lot Lice - Locals who arrive early, walk around, and leave late without spending any money

Terms for Merchandise

  • Slum - Very cheap prizes that are bought in bulk, sometimes for as little as $1 a gross; also called hooch

  • Plaster - Cheap prizes made of plaster that seem to be worth more than they are

  • Paste - Cheap prizes. The term probably came from "paste" imitation jewelry.

  • Garbage - Cheap souvenirs sold on the midway

Other Slang at Carnivals

Here are other miscellaneous carny slang words:

  • 86'd - To be banned from the lot

  • Agent - The person working a game

  • Al-A-Ga-Zam - Greeting among carnies

  • B.C. - Be cool; a warning to stop what you are doing or saying

  • Bally or Ballyhoo - The spiel of the outside talker to draw people into the show

  • Beef - A complaint from a player or policeman

  • Blow Your Pipes - When a carny is hoarse from yelling at marks

  • Blowoff - After a show, this is an offer of another attraction for an additional fee

  • BR - A big wad of cash rolled up to entice marks

  • Building a Tip - The job of the outside talker is to gather a crowd (tip)

  • Butcher - The person who walks around selling food and drinks

  • Cake Cutting - Short-changing someone

  • Carny Roll - This is a bank roll with one or two big bills rolled around a bunch of one dollar bills

  • Cool Out - When you convince a mark that you did not take his money

  • Cowboy - A trouble maker

  • Crack - A very effective phrase used by carnies to get marks to play

  • Crank, Cradle, or Strom - The handle or pedal that controls a rigged game

  • Dog House - This is a booth where the person sits who controls the ride

  • Donniker - Restroom

  • Ducat or ducket - A free pass or ticket

  • Dukkering - Gypsy fortunetelling

  • Gaff - The mechanism used to control or fake a game

  • Grifters - This term covers criminals who run crooked games, shoplift, or pick pockets

  • Grind - This is end of an outside talker's spiel that moves the crowd into the show

  • Heat - Any problems in the carnival between any people there

  • Joing - This means to fix a game so that no one can win

  • Joint - A concession

  • Juice - Bribes paid to local law enforcement

  • Keister - A portable case holding things to display and sell

  • Kick - Where a carny keeps his money

  • Nut - A show's operating expenses

  • Poke - Money belonging to a carny

  • Popper - A wagon with popcorn, candy apples, and other edibles to sell

  • Possum Belly - A box under a wagon for storage

  • Punk - A child

  • Racket - Any operation that uses deception

  • Reading the Midway - This is walking around with your head down, looking for money or valuables on the midway

  • Tip - The crowd gathered in front of a show who listens to the outside talker's bally

  • Zamps - Rides for children

    Carny SlangCarny Slang

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