Hi, Yarnival readers! Hope you enjoyed my Tilted Duster pictures enough to come by and browse the rest of the site for a while.

I just have to say I really like carny slang. Even more than I like yarny slang. Here is some yarnified carny slang. (Sorry for the non-Ravelers, but there are a couple of Ravelry-internal links in here)

  • Bally – A free performance intended to attract both tips and visitors to the nearby sideshow.
  • Call – The act of yelling out slogans and interacting with passers-by to attract business.
  • SpringOpen the carnival.
  • Scratch – the revenue from a concession.
  • Oats – stolen money from a concession.
  • -‘iz’ or ‘erza’- – inserted between the syllables of words to serve as a cipher or cryptolect.
  • Mark – A target for swindling, especially one whose gullibility has been demonstrated. Derived from the covert use of chalk to mark the backs of especially ripe targets. The term has entered the popular lexicon, usually as “easy mark.”
  • Sharpie – The opposite of a mark: an experienced player who is wise to traditional carny scams and is skilled at the games themselves.
  • The Nut – The sum total (in cash) of a performance, or group of performances
  • The Kitty – Budgeted amount of finance, regulated by the management of a carnival for purchasing food and supplies for its workers. (“We wanted a new tent, but there’s no more scratch in the kitty”)
  • Rousty or Roustabout – A temporary or full-time laborer who helps pitch concessions and assemble rides. In the 1930s, American Rousty’s would work for a meal and perhaps a tent to share with other workers.
  • Sugar Shack – a concession or food-stand that doubles as a front for drug commerce & trafficking.
  • Donniker – Bathroom
  • Larry – Defective
  • Hammer-Squash – Used to describe an individual as dumb or stupid (used interchangeably with Larry when used to describe a person).
  • New – An insult used by carnies, against carnies. Used in instances where a carnival worker should know better, with the insulter asking “What are you, new?”
  • Straight – A game that is played by the rules
  • Alibi – A technique used where the player has apparently won the game, but is denied a prize when the jointee invents a further, unforeseeable, condition of the game. For example, a player may be disqualified on the grounds of having leaned over a previously undisclosed “foul line.”
  • Flat – A game that is rigged so that you cannot win. Illegal in most states.

Many carnies “qualify” outsiders by using the jargon.

  • Gaff – To rig a game so as to make it unwinnable
  • Hey Rube – An exclamation used to summon help by a carny in trouble, either from police or disgruntled players. The term was used as the title of a sports column written by Hunter Thompson for ESPN.com in his later years.
  • Two-Way Joint – A game that can be quickly converted from a fixed, unwinnable game into a temporarily honest one when police officers come by.
  • Ikey Heyman – A wheel of fortune that can be secretly braked by the carny
  • Burn the lot – To cheat players with little or no attempt to conceal the subterfuge, in the carny’s expectation that the same town will not be visited again.
  • Patch money – Money used to induce police officers to turn a blind eye. Also known as “juice” or “ice.”
  • Spinning / flying Jenny or Jinny – Carnie slang for merry-go-round.
  • Mooch – An individual who asks for a free game or prize. It is also used to describe someone who watches others play, but does not play themselves or asks a lot of questions with no intention of playing the game. Sometimes used as an insult between carnies to connote cheapness.
  • Glass hammer – An object a carnival worker will ask a younger customer for when asked for a free game or prize. The idea is that the ‘mooch’ will go onto the next game and ask for a glass hammer, only to find out that this new carny has one, but can only give it up for some other far fetched item. Examples of such items include: A cordless extension cord, a solar-powered flash light, an underwater lighter, tack glue, a left handed screwdriver, etc. The idea is to have fun at the customer’s naivety.
  • Stick Joint – Homemade wooden or metal booth.
  • Blow Off – Rush of customers out of an exhibition.
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