Carny Slang

, Staff Writer
Updated August 26, 2014
Carny person by carnival balloon game
    Carny person by carnival balloon game
    jimd_stock / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Have you ever wondered what some carny slang words mean? Like other organizations and industries, carnivals and the people who work in them have a jargon all their own.

Definition of Terms: Carnival and Carny

Before discussing carny slang, it's important to define carny and carnival. The word carny is a slang term in North America for a person who is employed by a carnival. A carnival, as the term is being used here, is a short-term event with outdoor rides, booths, games, shows, and concessions. Carnivals travel from town to town, setting up on parking lots or grassy areas.

Carny Slang for Money, People and Prizes

Workplace jargon is common in every industry. In carnivals, there are several slang terms for things like cheating the boss, customers and prizes. Learn some of the slang terms that carnival insiders use to refer to these things.


Carny Terms Related to Money

There are a few different carny terms for money, including bringing in cash from visitors as well as when workers steal money collected for themselves rather than turning it in to the boss.

  • br - a big wad of cash waddled up to entice marks; a bankroll
  • cake cutting - short-changing someone
  • carny roll - a bank roll with one or two big bills rolled around a bunch of one dollar bills
  • cool out - convincing a mark that you did not take his money
  • going south - stealing money; "south" is used because some of the money goes into the apron worn by the carnival worker
  • grifters - criminals who run crooked games, shoplift or pick pockets
  • ho - stands for hold out; stealing by not remembering to submit money collected
  • juice - bribe money paid to police or other local officials
  • oach - to skim some money from your take and not give it the boss
  • poke - money belonging to a carny
  • swing - to steal money from your boss

Lingo for Carnival Workers

While carny is the most general slang term for carnival workers, it isn’t the only one. Carnivals have a number of workers, each of whom has a specific role to fill.

  • advance man - person who takes care of details that need to be handled in advance of a carnival setting up in a particular location
  • agent - person working a game
  • butcher - worker who walks around selling food and drinks
  • carnie - alternate spelling for carny; carnival worker
  • clerk - concession stand worker
  • flattie - one who operates a shady (not legal) game
  • gazoonies - day labor workers; newbies who likely won’t make it
  • jointee or jointy - a game worker
  • operator - one who runs/operates amusement rides
  • showman - carnival owner

Slang Words for Carnival Customers

Carny lingo includes a number of words to describe visitors to the carnival, most of whom are people from the local area near where the carnival is set up.

  • cake eater - locals believed to be easy to take advantage of
  • chump - a gullible local; someone who is seen as a sucker
  • cowboy - a trouble maker
  • emby - an extremely gullible local
  • kick - where a carny keeps his money
  • local - people who live in or near the town where the carnival is set up
  • lugen - a really dumb mark
  • lot lice - locals who arrive early, walk around and leave late without spending any money
  • mark - a townsperson you pick out as a victim
  • mooch - a local who is very easy to fool
  • player - someone who pays money to play a game
  • punk - a child

Terminology for Carnival Prizes

A few different terms are used to refer to the merchandise carnival visitors can win by playing various games of chance.

  • 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; probably came from "paste" imitation jewelry
  • garbage - cheap souvenirs sold on the midway

More Slang Terms Used at Carnivals

While carny lingo includes several terms for money, customers, workers, and prizes, there are also quite a few other common slang terms used in the industry. The next time you attend a carnival, pay close attention to what workers are saying and see if you can pick up any of these slang words

  • 86'd - to be banned from the lot
  • al-a-ga-zam - greeting among carnies
  • bc - stands for be cool; a warning to stop whatever you are currently doing or saying
  • bally/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 - a show after a show; an offer of another attraction for an additional fee
  • building a tip - the job of the outside talker is to gather a crowd (tip)
  • clem - a fight between a local and a carnival worker
  • 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 fortune telling
  • gaff - the mechanism used to control or fake a game
  • grind - 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
  • keister - a portable case holding things to display and sell
  • nut - a show's operating expenses
  • popper - a wagon with popcorn, candy apples and other edibles to sell
  • possum belly - a box under a wagon for storage
  • racket - any operation that uses deception
  • reading the midway - 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

Learn the Lingo

Picking up jargon used within a specific industry is a good way to learn the lingo. Do you love mastering these kinds of words? Review an American slang dictionary for even more interesting slang terms. If you like knowing how such terms originate, explore the history of American slang words.