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Carny or carnie is a slang term used in North America for a carnival employee, and the language they use, particularly when the employee runs a "joint" (booth) (i.e. a "jointie), "grab joint" (food stand) (also a "jointie"), game, or ride (i.e. a "ride jock" or "ride operator") at a carnival, boardwalk or amusement park. The term "showie" is used synonymously in Australia.



Carny is thought to have become popularized around 1931 in North America, when it was first colloquially used to describe one who works at a carnival. The word carnival, originally meaning a "time of merrymaking before Lent," came into use circa 1549.

Carny language

The carny vocabulary is traditionally part of carnival cant, a secret language. It is an ever-changing form of communication, in large part designed to be impossible to understand by an outsider. As words are assimilated into the culture at large, they lose their function and are replaced by more obscure or insular terms. Most carnies no longer use cant, but many owners/operators and "old-timers" still use some of the classic terms.

In addition to carny jargon, some carnival workers used a special infix ("earz" or "eez" or "iz") to render regular language unintelligible to outsiders. This style eventually migrated into wrestling, hip hop, and other parts of modern culture.

The British form of fairground cant is called "Parlyaree".

Usage in popular culture

  • In the The Simpsons episode "Bart Carny", Bart Simpson and Homer Simpson are forced to work as carnies after Bart destroys Hitler's car. After failing to bribe Police Chief Chief Wiggum, the ring toss game that they are fraudulently running is shut down. Throughout the episode carny jargon is used. One of the carnies is voiced by Jim Varney.
  • The fourth season of Heroes features several characters that live and work in a traveling carnival.
  • The HBO series "Carnivàle" centered around a traveling carnival in the American Southwest during the 1930s.
  • Patrick Jane, the title character of the CBS crime drama The Mentalist, was raised as a carny.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, the protagonist Michael spends some time living with carnies.
  • In Theodore Sturgeon's novel The Dreaming Jewels, the hero flees with carnies to escape a brutal father. The head carny collects unusual people because he has discovered strange jewels that create people as works of art. Sturgeon himself worked as a carny for a time.
  • Barry Longyear's Circus World books Circus World, City of Baraboo and Elephant Song are science fiction, set on a planet populated by the descendants of a crashed space-going circus, with preserved and evolved carny culture elements including performance as a means of barter.
  • The 2013 Stephen King novel "Joyland" is set in a 1970s American amusement park and makes reference to "carnies"
  • Much of the fiction of pulp writer Fredric Brown features carnies and touches on carnival life, in particular the Ed and Am Hunter mysteries, beginning with The Fabulous Clipjoint in 1947.
  • Carnival Games (known in Europe as Carnival: Funfair Games) is a video game made for the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS featuring a carny who helps to present and explain gameplay.
  • Many Carny words are still used by professional wrestlers, e.g. mark, work, snozz, et al. Pro wrestling originated in the carnivals of the 19th and early 20th century where wrestlers not wanting to face regular injury and wanting to make bouts more entertaining would 'stage' their fights. Carny language was used to disguise the staged nature of the bouts with all involved keeping "kayfabe" or protecting the secret.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Carny" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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