16 Excellent Bits of Carnival Slang to Add to Your Vocabulary

This list is your Annie Oakley to fitting in at the carnival.
This list is your Annie Oakley to fitting in at the carnival. / Nathan Steele/EyeEm/Getty Images

Even if you’ve never worked on a midway, you can still pepper your speech with delightfully authentic carnival jargon. Start slipping these terms into conversation and watch as your friends bally about how great talking to you is.

1. Annie Oakley

The name of the famous sharpshooter became a slang term meaning “a free ticket” in the 1910s.

2. Bally

To attract a crowd by making a great commotion about how terrific a show is.

3. Brodie

This slang term for a failure or a spectacular fall was named for Steve Brodie, a man who claimed to have survived a fall from the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886.

4. Charivari

A cacophonous and chaotic entrance of clowns.

5. Charley

To toss a stack of posters or playbills in the trash rather than giving them away as ordered.

6. Cherry Pie

Outside work performed by carnival employees for extra cash.

7. Clem

Clem was a late 19th-century slang term for a fight between carnival employees and the residents of the town they’re passing through.

8. Dukey

A lunch distributed to carnival staff on the journey between destinations.

9. and 10. Kinker and Kinker Talk

This slang term for a circus performer originally referred to just acrobats. Kinker talk, meanwhile, was “the special language of the circus,” according to The Language of American Popular Entertainment.

11. G-Top

A private, employees-only tent for gambling was a G-top.

12. Larry

A poorly-made, worthless, or broken item or souvenir.

13. Lead Joint

A shooting gallery.

14. Reuben

A rube or a gullible sap.

15. Scram-bag

A bag packed for immediate use in case a quick departure is required.

16. Waxie

This slang term for a repairman is also sometimes spelled waxy, and according to Dictionary of American Slang, it's “obs[olete] except for circus use.”

A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2023.

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