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Scoundrels’ Glossary


This is our Scoundrels Glossary where we provide the basic words that make up the lingo of the short con grifter from the earliest times to the present. The "Edit page" button is at the bottom left of the window. Click on it and you can edit anything on the page. If you see a spelling or gramatical error, just change it. If you can add another definition of a word, or a new word, add it. Identify if possible the period in which the word was used. Give as much information as you can. We love to include non English words from any language. If you can't translate the usages and definitions into English, someone else will come along and do it later.

Eventually, this will be an incredible public domain resource for the study of the argot of the grift. It will also be a great place for performers of all kinds, as well as writers and directors to find the actual slang and argot that is appropriate to the grifting underworld at any particular period of time. By placing linked wiki pages that contain notes and expanded info on the word, a huge amount of useful information can be stored in an intuitive and helpful way. See the definitions of Dollar Store or Phishing or Nigerian Letter or Huckleberry for examples. Each has notes to other interesting wiki pages of information.

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The Argot of the Con Artist


(From School for Scoundrels Notes on Three-Card Monte)


The argot of the grifter changes over time, but you may run into a number of these terms in your reading about short-cons. These words are from the lingo of short-con operators past and present. You might want to check out more general underworld slang online at miskatonic.org/slang.html. You can sprinkle some of these words in your patter to add a little color.

Much of the material in this glossary comes to us from the American Confidence Man by David Maurer, but we also have to thank Darwin Ortiz for his wonderful book Gambling Scams, and Ronald A. Wohl whose linguistic and historical research and collection of photos and illustrations have been such a huge help in this work.

This glossary also contains words of importance for our other set of notes on fast and loose and the shell game.

Some of these terms were in use in Devol’s time and are still heard today, others are obsolete.

Some terms are from the carnival, some from the swindlers of England or France, but most are from the mid-twentieth century slang of the grifter underworld.

The purpose of underworld slang is to keep outsiders “out of the loop.” Every underground society changes the meaning and usage of slang words as soon as they become understood beyond the culture in which they were created. If you say “groovy,” “far out,” or “out of sight” to a group of teenagers today, the chances are that they will not be impressed with you and will not think that you are really “with it.”

In the same way, the use of any term that is not current among the hep guys you are speaking with immediately brands you as a fly gee for using a sucker word. If you ever do talk with shell game or monte hustlers, don’t try to use any of these words in order to impress them. You will sound like a detective (see Dick, below).





Scoundrels Glossary


Ace. A decent or good-humored guy. A sport.

Apple. (1) A mark or sucker. (2) Any person.

Addict. A mark that can’t be knocked (see below). He believes so much in the con that he comes back again and again to be taken.

Alibi Store. A rigged carnival game, supposedly of skill, in which the operator (alibi agent) falsely convinces the player that he can win if he just follows the operator’s advice.

The Bank. Faro (See below).

The Bat. The gold brick scam.

Beef. For a mark to complain to the police.

Behind the Six. Short of money. Also light, chick, chicane.

The Belt. American Grifter Slang for Fast and Loose or Pricking the Garter. See The Strap below. The Belt

The Best of It. A sure thing, a cinch. A mark always thinks he can profit with some prearranged method for cheating, which offers him “the best of it.”

The Big Mitt. A short-con game played against a store with inside men and ropers. The victim is enticed into a poker game, and then cold-decked on his own deal.

To Bill (Them) In. For swindlers to induce marks to enter a swindling establishment.

Block Game. Shell game played with small hollow boxes weighted on top. Also called the blocks, the boxes, the dinks, the hinks, the nuts, the peeks, the shells.

Blow. 1. To allow the mark to win some money in a short-con. 2. To lose. “I blew my stake.” 3. To realize. “He never blowed it was a gaff.” 4. To leave. “Let’s blow this
joint.”

Blow-Off. Any technique to get rid of the mark after he has been taken. Also used for the climax of a scam.

Bluecoat. (American grifter slang) A uniformed policeman.

Boat-Rider. A professional gambler who works ocean liners and often steers for confidence games.

Bonnet. An old British swindler term for shill. May be derived from the French bonneteur.

Bonneteau. This is the French name for three-card monte. Literally, a little cap or hat. Bonneteur came to mean a con man (from an earlier usage that meant a stranger who greets “too friendly”—presumably by lifting his hat). Some writers have claimed that the word came from the bend in the cards, which resembles the bill of a man’s cap. But the word used to be used for thimble-rig and almost any street con, and was predated by the use of bonneteur for con man. See Bonnet above. (Thanks to Ronald A. Wohl for this information.)

Booster. Shill who acts the part of a bettor. The shill that encourages the sucker to bet. "I got sixty of his money! If you got a good eye, this is easy!"

Broad. A playing card. The O.E.D. dates this term to 1812. Broads were cheaper made cards, and were wider than the better quality cards used for the more aristocratic sort of games such as whist. Also, a railroad ticket.

The Broads. Three-card monte.

Broad Tosser. Three-card monte dealer. Also called springer, tosser, dealer, operator.

Bucking the Tiger. Playing Faro. The dealer was an entrepreneur and banked his own game, usually renting space from a saloon or other establishment. The wild ride on a tiger usually didn't end well.

C Note. Hundred-dollar bill.

Camera-Hugger. (contemporary) A tourist, made obvious by the camera hanging around his neck.

Cap. Expenses connected with roping and fleecing a mark, especially the roper’s expenses on the road. Also called the nut.

Capable Support. Assistance of good shills in monte or other short-con.

Capper. Three-Card Monte shill who acts the part of a bettor. The shill who "doubles" when the sucker bets on the right card.

Cheechako. A term from the Alaskan Gold Rush of the 1890's; it describes someone who is completely new to the territory, a tenderfoot, a babe in the woods. From a native Alaskan word meaning "foreigner."

Chick, or Chicane. Short of money.

To Chill. For a mark to lose interest in a con game—cold feet.

Chuck-a-Luck. A dice game played with three dice in a cage. A banking game much like Grand Hazard. More

Close the Gates. Shills crowding out unwanted observer to the monte.

Closed Monte. Version of monte played with outside man and inside man. Played “privately” in monte store, train, or bar.

To Come Off. To be consummated, as in the cheating of a sucker. “The play came off just as the cops showed up.”

The Come-On. Helpful information about, or an apparent advantage for, a street or carnival game that is offered to the sucker by the operator: “I’ll mark the winning card with this paper clip.”

Come-Through. A fleeced mark who refuses to be blown off and follows con men in attempt to have them arrested.

Cool Out. Pacifying a mark after he has been taken.

Cop a Heel. Run away.

Cop and Blow. For con men or shills to win and lose bets with the sucker, to make the play look fair.

Country Boy. A complicated version of closed-monte popular in Texas and the South. Also, Texas Twist, Texas Tornado. See TexasTwist

Crack out of Turn. For shill or con man to miss a cue or speak his lines out of place.

Cross Fire. A conversation in grift slang between the outside man and inside man so that a mark or bystanders can’t understand.

The Crow. Fake or cheap. See The Quill.

Daub. A colored paste used to mark cards.

Deadhead. A mark that is not likely to bet much money.

Deap-Sea Gambler. Same as boat-rider.

Dick. Police detective.

Dollar Store. The first version of the monte store created by Ben Marks in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Eventually spawned a legitimate business as well as the so-called “big store” of the big con. See DollarStore

Drop-in. Something easy; very easy money. It is called this because sometimes a fat mark will drop-in on a confidence game without being steered.

Duking In. Getting a mark to involved by getting him to play for a shill, or a shill makes a bet for him. Same as mitting in.

Dump. To lose intentionally, done between two players to take a side bettors money

The Ear. The bend put in the corner of the winning card at three-card monte as part of a play to swindle the mark. Same as the hook and the lug.

Earnest Money. Money required from the mark as a show of good faith.

To Fall. Go to prison. Also, "to take the fall."

Faro, sometimes Pharo. Named from the French game Pharao. The foremost gambling game of the nineteenth century. Played on an oilskin layout painted with the faces of thirteen cards. Dealt from a shoe or box. Players bet on the order cards would come out.

Fast and Loose. This is the English Renaissance name for the short con swindle also known as Pricking the Garter or in American Grifter Slang as The Strap. The word can also mean the more modern version of the game known as The Endless Chain or On the Barrelhead. See Fast and Loose

Fin. Five-dollar bill.

Fish. A sucker.

Fly Gee. An outsider who understands confidence games, or thinks he does.

G Note. Thousand-dollar bill.

Gee. A thief or con man. Short for gun (see below). Common in Australia (ca. 1900) according to M.P. Adams. Also, a grand ($1000).

Got his nose open. Losing money, as in "He's got his nose open."

The Grift. A group of criminal professions that employ skill rather than violence.

Grifter. A criminal who lives by his wits rather than violence.

Gun. A thief or con man. From the Yiddish word gonif—a thief.

Gun moll. A thief-girl, especially a female pickpocket. Has nothing to do with guns, but comes from the Yiddish word gonif—a thief.

Handler. Same as stick handler (see below)—he directs the betting of the shills.

Heat. Pressure from the law, or tension caused by a mark’s beef.

Heavy Racket. Criminal activity involving violence or threat of violence.

Heel Grifter. Cheap, small-time grifter. Implication is that he is poor and travels on foot.

Hep or Hip. "With it"--wise to what is happening. According to David Maurer in The American Confidence Man, it came from a misunderstanding of the original usage, which came from the name of an 1890's Chicago saloon owner, Joe Hep. His place was a grifter hangout, but he didn't know it. Evidently, he thought all his customers were just businessmen and salesmen. The story goes that when a musician or other stranger was brought over to a con man table, the question "Who's your friend?" was answered, "Oh, he's Joe Hep." This meant the guy didn't have a clue and it was all right to talk around him using grifter's slang. The "friend" usually misunderstood, and taking it as a compliment, thought that "Hep" meant "with it" or "cool," and that is how the term gravitated into the musician's lingo. More

Hey, Rube! From circus and carnival, but very old. A fight between grifters and victims, or a call for help in a fight.

The Hook. (1) The bend in the corner of the winning card in three-card monte. Also called lug and ear. (2) An apparent advantage over the operator that the sucker sees on his own or has pointed out to him by an outside man or shill.

Huckleberry. (From 1800's US--The West) 1. small amount. 2. "one's huckleberry," the very person for the job. 3. bad or disparaging treatment: "the huckleberry" is similar to "the raspberry." 4. a foolish, inept or inconsequential fellow. There is a related phrase (also from the south often quoted in regards to courage as "a huckleberry over the
persimmon") Also "above one's huckleberry" is to be just beyond one's abilities. More

Hungarian Monte. A version of three-card monte using three metal disks, one of which has a red dot painted on it. Dates back to before communist takeover of Hungary.
See also Trinidad Monte. More

Hustler. Any kind of gambling cheat.

Hype. (1) In three-card monte, a false throw in which the unexpected of two cards held in one hand is placed or dropped to the table. Also, overthrow. (2) A highly skilled
short-change racket. Also, the flop, laying the note, the sting.

Inside Man. The con man who actually operates the swindle.

Knock. For an outsider to convince a victim that he is being swindled.

Leak. To fail to hide a cheating move, as when a palmed card is spotted. Can also refer to a weakness in a person's play of a game, like poker.

Lop-eared. Stupid. Usually a mark who is too stupid to see his advantage in a con game. So stupid he can not be trimmed.

The Lug. The bent corner of the winning card in monte. Also hook or ear.

Maghas. Nigerian internet scammer slang for sucker. It is from a Yoruba word meaning fool, and refers to gullible white people. NigerianLetters

Mark. A sucker or intended victim. From the chalk mark carnival grifters placed on the back shoulder of a potential “easy victim.” Not just an easy victom, a mark would also be put on someone known to be carrying a lot of cash. Also: vic, Bates, John Bates, Mr. Bates,
winchell, chump.

Mitt. A hand, either a human hand or hand of cards. Same as duke.

Mitting In. Getting a mark to involved by getting him to play for a shill, or a shill makes a bet for him. Same as duking in.

Money Card. The winning card in a monte game.

Monte. Usually three-card monte. Sometimes referring to the Mexican card game, Monte which was very popular in Mexico and the South-West in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Monte Store. A fake store, back room, or saloon that fronts for a three-card monte game. See closed monte, dollar store.

Monte Tickets. The cards used to play three-card monte. In nineteenth century these were manufactured specifically for the purpose and usually featured an old woman, a
man, and a boy with a hoop.

Mug. Face as in “mug shot.” Also, a nobody—a “face in the crowd.”

Nigerian Letter. An internet scam based loosely on the Spanish Prisoner con. Its popularity among young internet con artists in Nigeria gave the scam its name. Samples of Nigerian letters can be found here: NigerianLetters See also: "maghas" above.

Oakus. Wallet.

The Old Army Game This name has been applied to Three-Card Monte, The Shell Game, and The Strap. It is used as sort of a come-on, eager young recruits will of course want to be familiar with "The Old Army Game." In the same way, Monte was used as a name for the three card trick in the 19th Century, because easterners had heard of the game Spanish Monte (mountain) and when the hustler introduced the game as "Monte," the tenderfoot would want to learn "all about it." See Shell Game, The Strap, Three-Card Monte.

On the Barrelhead. A version of Fast and Loose played with a loop of string or chain. Name comes from 19th Century when it was commonly played for sailors on barrels along the wharves. Sometimes heard in a sentence, "Put your money on the barrelhead". This would mean show the money now.

On the Wall. The lookout who watches for police for an open monte game is “on the wall.”

Open Monte. Monte game played outside or in the open for all comers. The game itself draws the suckers, as opposed to having a sucker qualified and steered to the game by an outside man.

Outside Man. The con man who locates a mark and gets him involved in the swindle by bringing him to the inside man who actually operates the scam.

Peek the Poke. To catch a glimpse of the money in the mark’s wallet so the gang can size him up for the touch.

Phishing. In computing, phishing (also known as carding and spoofing) is a scam to fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy person or business in an apparently official electronic communication, such as an email or an instant message. The term phishing arises from the use of increasingly sophisticated lures to "fish" for users' financial information and passwords. Phishing E-Mails See also: Wikipedia

Picket. English grifter’s term for the shill that acts as a lookout for the police.

Pickup Guy. A “wise” outsider who hangs around the monte or shell game hoping to beat the operators at their own game.

Pigeon Drop. A short-con routine with many variations—often involving a found purse, a winning lottery ticket, a stake for a bet, etc. and a promise to share the proceeds with the sucker if he puts up ‘earnest’ money.

Playing the Bank. Playing the game of Faro.

Poke. Wallet.

Pricking the Garter. Elizabethan English term for "fast and loose" played with a belt. See The Strap.

Put on the Send. Sending a mark off to get more money from his home, bank, or ATM.

Put the Mark Up. For a roper, or a roper’s agent working on commission, to locate a good prospective mark. “Mason Long put the mark up for Canada Bill and Dutch Charley.”

Queer. Counterfeit money. Also can mean to ruin or cause something to go wrong as in “queer the deal.”

The Quill. The genuine article. As opposed to The Crow, above.

Roper. Outside man. The con man who locates a mark and gains his confidence, and then brings him to the inside man to be taken.

Round. To cause someone to turn around so that he won’t see a cheating move by a partner.

Rube. A country bumpkin. As W.C. Fields would say, a naïve luddy-duddy, moon-calf, or jobbernowl.

Rube Act. A script for short-con games in which the inside man plays the part of a naïve country bumpkin, of whom the sucker and the outside man conspire to take advantage. Use in three-card monte credited to Canada Bill Jones. From the ancient dodge from 15th century Spain known as “playing the peasant.”

Sawbuck or Saw. Ten-dollar bill.

The Score. Proceeds from the con game. Also called The Joint.

The Send. Stage of a swindle in which the victim is sent home or to the bank for more money.

Shade. Misdirection. Any kind of cover or distraction that covers a cheating move.

Shill. Any partner in the con game, skilled or unskilled. From the Welsh shillaber which meant a “fellow participant in a job of work.”

The Shiv. A short-con game played with a knife, the blades of which can be locked at will. Described in Devol’s Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi in a funny story where Canada Bill Jones is mistaken by two swindlers for an easy mark.

Short-Con. Any con game that takes place in a short time, usually without a send—as opposed to the big con which could take days or weeks and usually involves a send.

Shortcake. For a con man to shortchange his partners by under-reporting the take.

Side. A street-con shill whose job it is to keep a lookout for the police. Also wall man, picket.

Skin Game. Nineteenth century term for short-con.

Slide. A monte lookout, whose job includes signaling when the police come, and as protectors for the dealer. ‘Slide’ can also be a term used by a monte lookout to warn that
police are coming and the gang should disperse. Also called side, wall man.

Smoother. English grifter’s term for the shPickeill that cools out the mark after the sting.

Soap Game. A short-con game in which the grifter appears to wrap up a twenty-dollar bill with several of the cakes of soap he is selling. It is worked with a number of shills and heavy cross-fire. Invented by Old-Man Taylor, and developed into an art-form by Jeff “Soapy” Smith.

Spieler. The front man who herds a crowd into a circus or carnival show. Also talker.

Spiel the Nuts. To play the shell game under the cover of a brisk cross fire.

Spring. For a mark to make a wager at three-card monte.

Springer. Three-card monte tosser. Also called broad-tosser, dealer, operator, store.

Steam. Same as heat.

Steer. (from nineteenth century) To lead a mark to the inside man. “He used to steer against the broads for Canada Bill.”

Steerer. (from nineteenth century) Outside man. Same as roper.

Stick. Shill who acts the part of a bettor. Also called capper or booster. In carnival, it usually meant local shill help that was cut adrift and not paid when the show left town.

Stick Handler. Con man whose job it is to handle the activities of the shills.

The Sting. The point in a con game where the mark’s money is taken from him.

The Strap. Con game using a belt—the Pricking the Garter version of Fast and Loose. See The Strap

Sucker. Anyone who is not a member of the hustling sub-culture.

Sucker Word. Any cheating term that is only used by non-cheats or amateurs.

Sure-Thing. A term coined by Soapy Smith for a skin-game or rigged bet.

Swag. Booty—ill-gotten gains. Same as in the pirate days.

Tap out, tapioca A term for being out of money

Telegraph. To unwittingly signal to other players that you are about to make a cheating move through a clumsy preparatory move, or nervousness.

Tell. An unconscious signal or discrepancy which may be spotted by a knowledgeable observer as evidence that a cheating move has taken place.

Tell Box. A Faro dealer’s crooked dealing box. Also a two-card box, or two-card shoe. The top card can be sighted, and a second card dealt.

Texas Tornado. A complicated version of closed-monte popular in Texas and the South. Also Country Boy, Texas Twist See TexasTwist

Texas Twist. A complicated version of closed monte popular in Texas and the South. Also Country Boy, Texas Tornado. See: TexasTwist

Three-Card Molly. Black grifter slang for three-card monte.

Tiger. The game of Faro.

Tip. (From the carnival) A crowd of people. “He was a good talker, and quickly gathered a tip.”

Toss. In three-card monte, a fair throw in which the expected of two cards held in one hand is placed or dropped to the table.

Tossing the Broads. Dealing three-card monte.

Touch. The money taken from a mark. Same as Score.

Trim. Cheat, as in to “trim a sucker.”

Trinidad Monte. A version of three-card monte using rubber disks, one of which has a dot underneath drawn in chalk. See also Hungarian Monte. More

To Turn Out. To train a grifter in some special line of work. “Old Man Taylor turned Jeff Smith out on the soap game.”

Twist. A woman or girl connected to the underworld or involved in a racket.

Two-Card Box, Two-Card Shoe. See tell box.

Veal Cutlet. Overcoat spread over the knees as a playing table.

Wall Man. Three-card monte lookout. See “on the wall.”

Weight. Psychological persuasion used by a grifter. In pool it means a handicap given to the lessor player.

Wide Boy. British slang for dishonest person—usually a sucker. “Since the punter was a wide boy himself, he didn’t mind that the registration was faked—just so long as he got the vehicle cheap.”

Yap. 1. Stupid victim. 2. A person’s mouth.






Carnival Glossary


Add-Up Joint, or Add 'Em Up. Game where points are totaled for the player, illegal in some areas or states.

Agent. The one who works a game, Normally a game that requires some skill and finesse to sell to the marks, and most especially a rigged game.

Alibi Store. A game in which the agent gives you an alibi, an explanation of why you didn't win. When it appeared that you did — how you violated the rules (leaned over the foul line, etc.) He often offers you a "better" chance to win (for more money, of course).

Anatomical Wonder. A sideshow performer able to do stunts such as "the man without a stomach" (pulling the gut in until the backbone shows), pulling themselves through a coat hanger or tennis racket, etc. (Melvin Burkhart coined the phrase "The Human Blockhead." He also worked as the Anatomical Wonder in sideshows. He worked 65 years in sideshows. Johnny Fox is currently working on a documentary with him. He's 93.)

Baby Show. Also known as "bottle," 'freak baby" and "pickled punk" show.

Back End. The far end of the lot, where the large shows and rides are located. This placement of strong attractions draws customers from the gate through the entire length of the lot. It doesn't help anyone if mooches linger at the front end and do not circulate.

Back Yard. Sometimes also called "the livin' lot." Here, away from public access, are private trailers for living and storage.

Back Yard Boy. Sometimes a 'roughie' but more often an in-experienced helper.

Bag Man or Fixer. The official in the locale where the carnival is set up to whom protection money is paid, either to overlook actual violations or not to find imaginary ones.

Bail the Counter. As in "bail out of an airplane." Usually, the only way out of a joint is to "bail," or jump over the counter.

Barker. Barker was never an authentic carnival term. Carnies call the person gathering a tip for a show a "talker" — the "outside talker" attracts the tip and the "inside talker" or "lecturer" conducts the crowd through a ten-in-one show.

Beef. A complaint from a mooch or a cop concerning anything about the show.

Blade Glommer. A sword swallower.

Bozo. Character who insults customers to induce them to try to throw balls to spill him in a dunk tank. The joint is usually named "Dunk Bozo," in less sensitive days it was known as the "African Dip."

Burn the Lot. To allow agents to cheat brazenly and leave the locals so outraged that they won't allow yours or any other carnival in their town for a long time.

Burr. Operating expenses.

Butcher. Strolling drink merchant, sells lemonade, candy etc.

Cake Eaters. Locals, rubes.

Cake Cutting. Short-changing.

Canvas Joint. A game housed in a portable canvas-on-wooden-frame shack.

Capper. Confederate or shill.

Call. What an agent says and does to attract marks to his joint — "Hey- here, you can try it free!"

Center Joint. A Concession that can handle players from all four sides (also "Four Way Joint").

Chart. A table of values used to convert the numbers you rolled in game play to a final score. Example a "Razzle Dazzle" game. A "Chart Store" is a joint featuring this type of game. NEVER play a chart game!

Chump. Sucker, a mark, (as in W.C. Fields’ line "Never give a sucker an even break or smartin' up a chump!.")

Clem. Another term for "mark," more of a redneck local.

Chump-twister A carousel.

Chump-hostier. A Ferris-wheel.

Dark Ride. A "haunted house" that you ride or walk through.

Dealer. An agent who works a percentage game.

Devil Baby. A gaffed exhibit, ostensibly a freak featuring horns, fangs, hoofed feet, and claws, usually constructed to appear mummified or otherwise preserved.

Dime Museum. A collection of specimens, exotic objects and live acts and performances, usually set up in an old store front. These were both the original museums and the original freak shows. My old buddy Johnny Fox owns and founded The Freakatorium, El Museo Loco, it's dedicated to the history and preservation of the dime museum, one of America's ldest and most distinctive forms of entertainment. With a rotating collection of over 1,000 artifacts and curiosities, It's located at 57 Clinton Street on New York City's Lower East Side.

The Ding. Your Expenses (over and above the percentage) paid to the carnival operator.

Ding Show. "Absolutely free" ..Until you're inside then you're pressured for a "donation."

End. The percentage of the gross an agent gets from the owner of the joint.A good agent gets 50% after cost of the stock.

Flash. A nice display of large and expensive-looking prizes, even though they may be completely unwinnable by the mooches.

Gaff. The mechanism by which a game is secretly controlled or 'faked'.

Geek. An performer whose performance consists of shocking, repulsive and repugnant acts. This "lowest of the low" member of the carny trade would commonly bite the head off a living chicken, or sit in a bed of snakes, or play the wildman..It's said the term comes from the fact that in older days the bosses would hire fellows from an area of South Carolina...Known as the Geechie River (normally poor wino's and pay them near nothing, keep them on the wine and drunk to work these shows.)

Genny. (pron. "jenny") The generator truck.

Gibtown. Gibsonton, Florida, retirement spot (or winter quarters) for many show people. Pioneered by Jeannie (the "half-girl") and Al Tomaini (the giant), a married couple who retired from show business to open "Giant's Camp" fishing camp there.

Hanky-Pank. A game where every player wins a prize every time. A 5¢ prize given out for every 50¢ played adds up to big profits.

Hey, Rube! A call for help or YELL "fight!!!!"

Illusion Show. A show consisting solely of illusions, like the gorilla Girl, Headless Girl, etc.

Jerry Line. A gaff used to rig the Birthday month part of the guesser game.

Jo-ing To "jo" a game is to rig it so that it cannot be won.

Joint. All carnival midway concessions are called this

Jump. The move to the next show grounds.

Laying Dead. When you have nothing booking for your joint, show or ride at some point during the season.

Laying it Down. When the agent describes how the game is played.

Layout. or Laydown — The place on a joint’s counter where the "mark" puts his money to bet,

Larry. Damaged merchandise.

Line-up. The row of concessions side-by-side along the side of the midway.

Line-up Joint. After hours, an empty wagon or joint may be a temporary place of business where local prostitutes with extra energy service carnies with extra cash.

Lookie-Lou. Same as "lot lice," they'll walk around and see what they can see, but they won't any money.

Mark. A sucker or intended victim. From the chalk mark carnival grifters placed on the back shoulder of a potential “easy victim.” Also referred to as a "MOOCH"- A carnival term for a townsperson, Used to be when a carny spotted a towny flashing a lot of cash, he would give him a friendly slap on the back leaving a chalk mark so other carnies would know that this ONE is fat with cash.

MOOCH. A very easy Mark...

Money Store. Any game that pays off with cash instead of prizes.

Motordrome.A daredevil show involving motorcycles which race around inside (Held in place by centrifugal force) up the wall of a circular enclosure (Also known as "The Wall of Death".) My late Uncle ran one of these shows when Ringling was still under rag-top and had side-shows, 'til he jumped the cable and almost killed an ol' lady...--Tom Piccard

Racket.Any show that depends on deception for the money.

Racket Show. A carnival that derives most of its money from fixed games.

Rag in the bag. A small stuffed prize

Revue. A girly show that offers more entertainment than bare skin.

Robin Marks. When a carny wants to give a false name for himself or anyone else on the show. That's "robbin' marks" -I say are you with me on this one son?

Roughy Also called a relief man, they give the agent a break for food, etc... Also serve as a protector in times of trouble. Yell "HEY, RUBE!" and a Roughy comes running.

Simp Heister. also called a Chump Heister Carny term for a ferris wheel.

Skin Show. A girly show featuring nudity —

Slum. Very Cheap prizes, bought buy the gross.






Circus Glossary


Arrow. Paper sign, consisting of a simple arrow, used to mark the route between towns. Taped to road signs by the 24-hour man the day before the show moves.

Back Door. Performer's entrance to the tent.

Backyard. The area behind the big top where props, animals, and performers are readied for the performance.

Backlot. Were the Performers park and stay in their Motorhomes and Trailers.

Bale Ringe. Large steel ring encircling a center pole, on which the tent is attached and hoisted up.

Blowdown. When the tent is destroyed by high winds or a storm.

Blow Off. Immediately following the end of a performance, when the crowd mills out of the tent and onto the midway.

Bull. Elephant.

Butcher. A concessionaire who sells his/her wares by carrying them into the audience.

Center Pole. The tallest pole holding the tent up, located in the center of the tent.

Chinese. Anyone who works for free.

Cloud Swing. Aerial act in which an individual performs on a loop of rope suspended from the top of the tent.

Come-In. Just prior to the start of a performance, when the crowd is moving from the midway into the tent.

Cookhouse. Place where circus people eat. Also Known as the Pie Car.

Doniker. Toilet.

Doors! Order used to open the gates and let the public enter the big top.

First of May. A rookie on the circus.

Floss. Cotton candy.

Guy Lines. Cables used to stabilize aerial rigging.

Hey, Rube! A call for help among circus folk, usually involving fights with locals.

John Robinson. A shortened performance.

A Jam Face. A Clown term for a first of may beginner clown.

Lot. The property that a circus sets up on.

Lot Lice. Mostly townies who hangaround the back lot area, bugging the performers for photos and autographs

Mechanic. Safety harness worn by aerialists.

Midway. The area outside of the entrance to the main tent, typically lined with concessionaires.

Nut. The daily cost of operating a show. Legend has it that local authorities would remove a nut from the wagon wheel of the circus office and keep it to ensure that everyone got paid.

Pie Car. Place where circus people eat. Also cookhouse.

Quarter Pole. The second largest poles in the tent, between the center poles and the side poles.

Rigging. The equipment used in aerial acts.

Risley. An acrobatic act in which one person juggles another on his/her feet.

Roustabout. A laborer on the circus.

Sidewall. Wall of a tent.

Side Poles. The smallest poles in the circus tent, running around its outer edge.

Spec. A parade within the tent of all performers and animals in costume, usually at the beginning of the show.

Spool Truck. Truck which carries the tent canvas.

Straw House. A sold-out performance.

Tear Down. Take down equipment and ready the circus for moving.

Townie. Anyone not traveling with a circus.

Twenty-Four Hour Man. A circus employee who plans the route to the next town, marks the route with arrows, and determines where the circus will be set up on the lot.

Web Long. Ropes (actually cotton-filled fire hose) hung from the top of the tent for aerialists to perform on.

Windjammer. Circus musician.

(Hair from the tail of an elephant is good luck.)











Whit Haydn




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