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D through I
Dark Ride A "haunted house" that you ride or walk through. The animated scary surprises inside are known as "tricks" or "gags."
Dealer An agent who works a percentage game.
Dead Man An extra anchor stake for a guy wire or banner line, buried in especially soft earth.
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, most popular primarily in the 19th and early 20th Century. Present-day roadside museums are their descendants.
Ding Expenses(over and above the percentage) paid to the carnival operator, such as charges for utilities, trash collection, insurance, badges, advertising, official shirts and ID cards, parking for your living trailer or RV, and tip to lot manager. You might have to pay the operator's man to sell tickets, since they don't trust you. And, of course, they didn't tell you this in advance, nor did they tell you about the "pay one price for everything" promotion so those people will be riding all day instead of buying tickets to your show, and the operator's percentage, quoted to you as 50% of your gross, has mysteriously jumped to 57% and the guy who told you 50% is nowhere to be found. And those "inside sales"? Not this time, unless you want to pay 57% of that money too. And on and on You don't like it? Well, you're now blocked in by rides and trucks, and you're unable to leave.
Ding Show I remember going into an "absolutely free" show in Atlantic City in the 1960s, and inside before getting to see "the real stuff," I was stopped at a gateway be the iron grip of the proprietor, saying "Aren't you going to give a contribution?" No mention of what I was contributing to, but for a buck I got to see a series of cardboard displays of great naval actions, no doubt provided free by the local recruiting office. A Ding Show is absolutely free, except that you aren't getting out without being strong-armed for a "contribution."
Direct Sales Concessions where a customer can buy a souvenir or other similar item.
Do-gooders Individuals who are self-righteously convinced that the carnival business is too disreputable to allow, that all show animals are certainly being mistreated, and that the display of human oddities is demeaning and immoral. They have succeeded in getting many restrictive laws and regulations passed, resulting in a lack of show work for freaks, who almost universally disdain do-gooders and their motives.
Dog House An enclosed booth occupied by the ride jock.
Donniker A rest room or toilet. Possibly derived from the need to pull down one's knickers in the outhouse. In Australian slang today, an outhouse is a "dunny".
Donniker Joint, Donniker Hole A particularly unfavorably placed joint, or unfavorable place to locate a joint. A bit like being seated next to the kitchen or restroom door in a restaurant. Also "Larry loc," from "larry", meaning anything broken.
Double A two-performer medicine show bit; or to perform more than one role. Also, a $20 bill.
D.Q. Short for "disqualified." To be thrown off the lot and ordered not to return. Might happen to a rowdy mark or to a worker who steals or messes with something he should leave alone, or causes more problems than he's worth.
Draw Money, a small percentage of total pay, advanced nightly to the ride help. Give them too big a draw and they'll come back tomorrow drunk, if they come back at all.
Drop the Awnings To close down a joint after the night's work is done.
Dropcase A briefcase or suitcase equipped with folding legs often used by street vendors to display their wares. The pitchman's "kiester and tripe" was a different arrangement for the same task.
Drop-Offs Banners in a lengthy banner line for which there is no room at the current engagement.
Drug Abuse Show An act where the performer supposedly has been driven insane, become deformed or mutilated, or has even given birth to a hideous mutant baby because of drug abuse. The pitch or banner would usually say something like "See the shocking and heartbreaking victim of drug abuse!"
Ducat (sometimes 'ducket') A free game ticket or other free pass to something, dispensed either as an enticement to play or to cool down a disgruntled player. Give an unhappy man a ducat to the girl show and he may attain a happier attitude. Especially when the girl show operator, seeing the ducat, points the customer out for a little special attention from the girls. The agent who gave out the ducat will get a bill from the girl show for 'services rendered.' Sometimes also used to refer to money.
Duck Pond Game in which customer selects a numbered toy duck from among those floating around in a circulating stream. Can be run straight, or as an alibi store ("See, kid, those red numbers mean a prize from the bottom shelf only.") Or those sixes (the giant stuffed dog) become nines (a penny plastic soldier) really fast.
Duke When a shill (game operator's employee posing as a member of the crowd) persuades someone to play. The shill gets a fee for this, often a percentage of what the agent extracts from the mark.
Duke Shot A demonstration game-shot made by the operator of an unwinnable game, or by the shill, to convince the mark that the game can be won. Also used to describe an immoral or illegal move by a carny.
Educated Knowledgeable. A mark who has been "with it" at some point in life is probably too 'educated' for the game.
Electric Chair Act An act (often called "The Human Dynamo") in which the performer (usually named "Mister Electrico" or the like) would appear to be immune to the effects of electricity actually a phenomenon of high voltage electricity which permits an ungrounded person to light neon or fluorescent tubes at a touch, and do other similar stunts without being harmed. The widespread availability of second-hand "quack" medical devices using this phenomenon made it easy for carny electricians to rig the gaff, but this is a very dangerous stunt if done wrong. See Ray Bradburys classic fantasy novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes" for a wonderful depiction of this act.
End The percentage of the gross a paid agent gets from the owner of the joint.
Emby A particularly gullible mark.
Fair Date Used by attractions booked to attract crowds to a sponsored stand. "Weird Al Yankovic is playing a fair date on the 15th" means that Weird Al will be a special featured attraction at [whichever] fair on that day.
Fairbank When the agent allows the player to think the agent has "cheated" himself, giving the player an (illusory) advantage. He may allow the player to win a small initial game, give him an extra ball, miscount the score in the player's favor, all to get the player play longer in hope of winning big.
Fakir The "Indian Fakir" was an early embodiment of the "Blockhead" and similar modern performers. With his "lifelong study of mystical Hindoo yoga," he might lie on a bed of nails, swallow swords, eat fire, etc. The word does not mean "faker," but comes from the Arabic "faqir", literally meaning a poor man (from "fakr" meaning "poverty.") A Muslim holy man who lived by begging, a fakir, like religious ascetics all over the world, might engage in stunts to show his piety and increase his income from begging.
Fast Count When the carny tallies a score swiftly so the player cannot confirm the result.
Feature A game that an agent operates especially well, his specialty.
Fence-to-Fence Operation A carnival where the carnival owner also owns all or most of the concessions and rides. A reputable owner can thereby keep away competition and keep away dishonest games. See the alternative, the "independent midway."
Fireball Show A carnival of the most disreputable sort, full of dishonest games, really strong kootch shows and the like. Also a "Burn'em Up Outfit."
First Count The right to be the first person to count the tickets or money, on the theory that the first count is most likely to be the most accurate and honest count (unless, of course, they've been rehashing some of the tickets.) Or (if you've got first count) because that's a good opportunity to divert some of the funds into your own pocket.
First on the Right The first 'hole' or two on the midway just to the right of the entrance. The sweetest loc (location) for most joints, as joints in that location are usually the first ones the crowd gets to.
Fix or Ice A payoff to operate without too much scrutiny from authorities, either as "protection money" to keep the police from shutting you down even though you're operating legally, or as a bribe to allow you to operate fixed games and 'strong' shows. Also 'patch,' which is also the term used for the person who puts in the fix with the local authorities. "Sheriff, we need a couple of your men to work off-duty security. Some of our games are a little tough, but we don't play to no kids. If a player feels he's been cheated have your men bring them to me and I will personally take care of any problem. By the way, we want to donate this $500 to your favorite charity, I'm sure you'll see that they get it."
Flag, or Flag's Up Signal that the cookhouse is open.
Flash Showy display of large and expensive-looking prizes, even though they may be completely unwinnable by the player. Also, the decorating you do on anything, from making a better sign to making anything look nice. "His joint was flashed good." One former carny said, "Flash is everything - the prizes you put out there and the way they are arranged."
Flasher A game using electronics or lights as indicators of the games result, bypassing local laws against mechanical wheels or similar devices.
Flat Store or Flat Joint A game that really has no winning number. As hard to win as many legitimate carny games are, this one is designed to be entirely unwinnable. So called because the "wheel of fortune" or whatever other rig is played there, once set vertically for all to see, is now set flat horizontally so that only the player and the agent can see it. It should be noted that an agent can make just about as much on a "hanky pank" (a game that you win every play, dispensing "slum" prizes) as he can make on one that can never be won. Ostensibly paid off winners in cash, not prizes, exceptthere were no winners, and after you lost a bunch of money they would throw you some sort of prize. "Almost all of the carnies don't like the flatties because you can't win at their game and they take people for lots of money. I have seen a flattie take people for a week's pay, their car, sometimes even their home. There is no way any other type of agent comes close to making the money a flattie does. "
Flatten To stop operating a game in a winnable fashion (in which the operator can generally keep a pretty high percentage of the income) and start working as a flat store (in which the operator can keep it all). The operator might have peeked an especially attractive poke and decided not to chance losing any of the mark's money.
Flattie The operator of a Flat Joint or any less-than-legal game.
Floater An operator who travels from one carnival to another.
Flea Powder Pitchman's term for powdered medicines.
Floss "Candy floss" is the industry's real name for what the public calls "cotton candy".
Flukum Any mysterious liquid, from homemade liniment to back-room hacked-together Sno-Kone flavoring.
For It Similar to "With It". Describes someone who doesn't travel or work in the carnival but is connected in some way.
(to) Frame a Show or Joint To build a new show or joint, or to gather a medicine-show cast.
Freak Show A show where human oddities and freakish working acts performed. In practice, these shows were often ten-in-one shows and usually had a high percentage of working acts like sword swallowers and fire eaters or 'made freaks' like tattooed people.
Frog Man Human oddity whose legs and arms were shriveled, usually by a birth defect.
Front Generally, the outside of a show, as in "show front", "talking the front", etc. A 200-foot front pretty clearly means the entrance and banner line of your show takes up 200 feet of the midway. Locations on the midway are usually paid for by the number of front feet the concession occupies (in addition to many other dings). A center joint is sometimes charged for two sides, sometimes all four.
Front End The place on the midway that has games and concessions, since the large rides are generally referred to as the "Back End".
G-Top The "G" is for "gambling." An "after-hours club" open only to carnies. A combined convenience store, bar, snack stand andcasino. The gambling might be just a friendly (but wary) game of poker, or it might be organized and more elaborate. When the lights go out on the wheel, signaling that the lot is closed for the night, the G-top starts filling up. One former carny said, "You haven't played games unless you've played with people who do it all day for a living! I've seen people lose a whole week's pay in 10 minutes cars they worked a year for, the money they were going to eat on tomorrow. That's how you learn the "tricks of the trade", in the G-Top."
G-Wheel A rigged wheel of fortune 'g' stands for 'gaff'.
Gadget Girl-show slang for a "g-string."
Gadget Show A midway attraction featuring mechanical novelties, like a miniature animated village or circus parade, usually housed in a trailer.
Gaff The mechanism by which a game is secretly controlled or 'faked'. "The game is gaffed" is more frequently expressed as "the game is G'd". Along with "gimmick," This term is still used by magicians to indicate the secret apparatus by which a magic trick works. A gaff may also refer to a fake freak exhibit, like a "pygmy mummy" made of rubber and cotton in someone's kitchen.
Gaff Banner A very attractive banner promising a world of wonders and a plethora of famous attractions with cleverly-worded bullets like "Past and Present" indicating that few (or none) of the attractions was actually there in the flesh. Photographs and other "museum" exhibits might show and tell you all about famous freaks.
Garbage Cheap souvenirs sold on the midway (pennants, balloons, hats, etc.)
Gasoline Bill Baker House name for the editor of Billboard's pitchmen's department.
Gazoonie The lowest form of carny, the itinerant day laborers who come and go at the drop of a hat. Also refers to a very young and inexperienced worker (who probably won't be able to take the hard work and will be gone in a few days.)
Geek An unskilled 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. Some historians distinguish between "geeks" who pretend to be wild men, and "glomming geeks" whose act includes eating disgusting things. See the 1949 movie "Nightmare Alley" for a good geek story as well as for an excellent depiction of the mentalists technique of "cold reading". In later years the geek show turned into a "see the pitiful victim of drug abuse" show. Click here for a re-created geek bally
Genny (pron. "jenny") The generator truck. (See "Light Plant").
Giant Rat The sideshow's "giant rat," often billed as "giant killer rats from the Amazon," usually capybaras, gentle animals but very high-maintenance. They produce incredible amounts of waste and require constant care. Showmen found that capys drew good crowds, but if they delegated the animal care they soon had a dead animal, and if they did it themselves it would eat up their time. Most operators switched to using nutrias. "These killer rats feasted on the flesh of dead American soldiers in Vietnam!"
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.
Gig To take all of a player's money in one short session instead of leading him to increasing losses on the belief that hell probably win in just one more try. Considered crude by more skilled carnies.
Gig Artist An agent who lacks the skill to remove all of a mark's money without causing a beef, generally because he gets it all too quickly.5
Gill or Gilly Anyone not connected with the show; an outsider. Also, to carry stuff from place to place (see Circus term "Gilly Wagon," a small utility cart.)
Girl-to-Gorilla Show An all-time moneymaker, this illusion show features a girl being changed (magically or "scientifically") into a savage gorilla, which then "breaks out of its cage" frightening the crowd away. It uses a half-silvered mirror ("one-way mirrors" are not really one way, they just show whichever side is more brightly lit). There are variations on the theme, like skeleton-to-vampire or in older times, "Galatea," after the myth of Pygmalion the sculptor and Galatea, the statue he brought to life. Simple upkeep and a little showmanship can make this show really frightening, but I have never seen it done with even the minimal care needed to arouse anything but disappointment. "Zambora, the ape girl, the ape girl, she's alive! Only the brave are invited to see the ape girl! She is locked in a solid steel cage for your protection, and under bright lights you'll see the change begin: her forehead will begin to recede, her eyebrows will protrude, fangs will begin to grow in her mouth, and her clothes will fall away from her body! A heavy coat of hair will grow from every square inch of her skin, the long straggly hair of a gorilla!"
Girl Show A show in which pretty women are the primary attraction. These could range from the "review" (such as a "Broadway Revue" with fully-clothed performers) to the racier "kootch" or "hootchie-kootchie" show (just a strip show, and hey! Did you see what she did with <umm that part of her body>?) Often, these shows are designed to play either "strong" (nude, and to varying degrees of raunchiness) or partly or fully clothed.
Glass Bender A midway joint craftsman who manufactures knicknacks (little unicorns and the like) from glass rods using a propane torch. Often seen these days at booths in shopping malls.
Go Wrong When an agent loses money despite his skill at keeping the game from being won.
Going South Stealing money (some of it goes into the apron to be counted, other times you 'go south' with it.)
Goon Squad On some shows, a gang of the tougher guys who act as 'enforcers,' beating up a carny because he's cheating the office or his boss, for instance.
Grab Joint or Grease Joint An eating concession in which the customer takes away food served directly over the counter.
Grapevine "Grapevine" is used in its usual sense: someone in South Carolina (for this week, anyway) talks to someone else, and the news or message travels by truck, by pay phone, by friend, by internet, hand to hand along the grapevine, until Ray-Ray or Skywheel Jimmy in Wisconsin hears that his friend with another outfit says "hey," or that you have to watch out for the heat this year when you hit Roanoke.
Grease Any salve being pitched.
Green Help New, inexperienced workers.
Grifters The crooked game operators, short change artists, and clothesline robbers, shoplifters ("merchandise boosters"), pickpockets and all other types of criminals associated with some carnivals.
Grind In the "outside talkers" spiel from a show front, the compelling and rhythmic verbal conclusion meant to move the patrons into the show. It differs from the opening bally, which is meant to get the attention of midway strollers and "build a tip", or sell them on the show they can see. Also means to stay in the joint and work even though there's almost no business.
Grind Show A show or attraction the customer can walk through and see at any time without being guided through. It has no bally, no beginning or end time; the front men and ticket sellers just "grind away" all day. Most of the shows on carnival midways today are grind shows, the grind blaring over the midway from an audiotape loop and sound system.
Grind Store Usually a small game that needs a lot of action to make a profit, generally one that operates on pennies, nickels, or dimes.
Grinder, Grind Man Before the days of endless tapes luring people into grind shows, the "grind man," usually the ticket seller, would give a rhythmic and continuous spiel. Considered a less-skilled job than "outside talker," since the grind man's chant was much less complex than a full bally.
Grouch Bag A small bag used to keep one's valuables in when your costume had no pockets, as valuables would not be safe out of your sight in the dressing area.
Ground Score Money or other goodies found while "reading the midway."
Gunner A confederate who helps run a Six Cat.
Half-and-Half A hermaphrodite. A very valuable blowoff attraction often forbidden by local authorities. Some were real freaks, others were "made" by (at the least) shaving and making up one side of the body, or by the use of hormones to grow breasts so a performer born male could also display his upper "female" half. Often forbidden by local authorities, the half-and-half was a great "blowoff" attraction. "Now folks, behind this curtain you are going to see the most bizarre attraction you have ever seen and I'm going to introduce her to you all right now. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Albert-Alberta. This beautiful lady is our star attraction, but she is so unusual we are banned from advertising her on the outside. And since she is not advertised on the outside, she is not included in your general admission ticket, there is an extra charge for what you are about to see. We make no apology for this policy, because when Albert-Alberta goes behind this curtain, and you go with her, you are going to view her entire body, and you will plainly see that she is, in fact, a hermaphrodite. You've heard your neighbors talking about the half man/half woman, but Albert-Alberta is not half man/half woman she is all man and all woman. You will see her body in its entirety, as bare as my right hand that you see before you right here. Now you must be between 18 and 80 years old or older to enter, because if you're under 18 you wouldn't understand it, and if you're over 80 you couldn't stand it. And since we do not wish to embarrass any of you sensitive folks, we have erected a partition down the center of the tent so that the men and women will be separated as they enter. The ladies will go to the right and the men to the left. When you enter I want you to go right up to the edge of the stage. Get as close as you can so that you can see Albert-Alberta's body in every detail as she displays herself to you, unadorned, unashamed, unlike anything you have ever seen before. The fee for this attraction is 25 cents, it's time to go in right now. And those of you who are under 18 years of age, please step down to the other end of the tent where you will be entertained by our magician on the main stage."
Handle How a game is rigged. Also used in the "CB radio" sense to mean the name (not your own) or nickname you go by.
Hanky-Pank A game where every player wins a prize every time. A 5’ prize dispensed for every 50’ play adds up to big profits!
Hard Cash Refers to all change, nickels, dimes, quarters, fifty-cent pieces, even the occasional silver dollar (more common in the past than now) or loonie (Canadian dollar coin.)
Hawker A strolling refreshment or souvenir merchant, peddler of lemonade, candy, pretzels and other edibles (more often called a "butcher")
Headless Illusion Illusion show where a living 'headless' person is displayed. Its a simple illusion done with mirrors, using the same principle (but achieving exactly the opposite effect) as the "Spidora" illusion. Usually pitched as a 'medical miracle' following a tragic accident.
Heat Problems, arguments or battles between the show, or its people, and townspeople. Most heat was caused by the show conducting illegal activities, but sometimes an outfit "burning the lot" ahead of your perfectly fair "Sunday School" operation could leave a lot of heat for you.
Heat Score A transaction that had to be settled by someone other than the agent.
Hey Rube! In the 'old days,' a call for help when a carny encountered more trouble with outsiders than he can handle alone. These days, 'hey rube' still works, but it's more likely to be "It's a clem!" or "wrang!" or simply "fight!"
High Grass Slang for a particularly out-of-the-way rural area.
High Pitch A sales pitch (generally for medicine) delivered from a raised platform.
Hold Out To steal from the boss by keeping a portion of the cash for yourself.
Hole A place on the lot to put your joint, particularly (but not exclusively) if you have a center joint and need an open area.You would go to the lot man and say "I have a 20x20 center joint, do you have a hole?" Also used to mean a non-competing vacancy for your type of concession (there might not be a hole for you if there were enough of your type of concessions already on the lot.) If you are an agent looking for a job you show up on the lot and say "I'm looking for a hole." How many holes a joint occupies is based on its frontage. A 16' joint usually takes four 'holes'.
(to) Hopscotch To book your joint at various individual dates throughout the season, playing your choice of events rather than traveling with a single carnival.
Hot Snake A term (also used in zoos) for a poisonous snake.
Human Pincushion An act in which the performer sticks sharp objects into his flesh. Also known as "Fakirs," from the Indian term. The secret to this act (like the secret to many sideshow acts) is that there is no secret. Puncturing one's flesh is painful, butless so than the audience thinks; you can learn to tolerate the pain.
Human Skeleton Human oddity who is extremely emaciated from a disease or muscular disorder.
Human Torso or Half-Man Human oddity born without legs, or without arms or legs.
Ikey Heyman Axle A gaff for a wheel of fortune; a secret friction brake on the axle stops the wheel wherever the agent wants.
Illusion Show A show consisting solely of illusions, like Headless Girl, Spidora, Mermaid, Snake Girl, etc.
Independent Midway On some engagements a single carnival owner, who has booked and approved rides, games, shows and food concessions to travel with the carnival for the season, may not contractually control the entire lot (fence to fence). Then the sponsors can rent spaces to others: booths for the Girl Scouts to sell cookies, hot dog stands run by the Lions, as well as rides, games and shows who play only independent stands. These independent operators may be as honest as the Girl Scouts or they may, unbeknownst to the sponsor, be crooked. Either way, they operate entirely free from the supervision of the major carnival (which has a reputation to protect). The independent area is usually fenced off from the carnival and may not even charge admission, but the public doesn't know about the business arrangement; they just know that a game on that lot cheated them, and they blame the big show. Additionally, independent operators draw business away from the big show and its concessions and attractions.
Inside Man The agent operating a game that depends on an "outside man" to build up business.
A - C J - P R - Z Talking "Carny"
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