“What did you say?” – A Quick Dip Into Carny Lingo

One of the things I love about carny culture is the language. There are terms that are used “backstage” by carnies which are colorful and amusing. As you might imagine it’s not exactly easy to ferret them out, though thanks to the internet they are surfacing more and more.

I happened to listen to a podcast yesterday from a show called Conjurors, Carnies and Collectors which featured one of my magic mentors, Jeff McBride, and discovered something I didn’t know; he’s an ex-carny. He worked two seasons of a carnival as a “concessionaire” taking money from the “marks” playing various “Flat Store” games. And he had quite the “ballyhoo.”

Okay, yeah, so I’m playing with words I know, but you can probably figure most of them out. The only ones you might not be completely clear on are:

  • Flat Store – Games you really can’t win.
  • Ballyhoo – the carny fast talk, usually associated with the pitch given in front of any particular show. In the case of a game designed to tell you what you need to know but generally so fast you miss it anyway. And, of course, how the “concessionaire” manages to effectively change the rules of the game on you as you are playing so that you’ll pay more to keep going.

Oh, and by the way, that guy out front isn’t a “barker.” “Barker” is a term used by “rubes.” He’s a “talker.” The “talker” gives the “ballyhoo” when he’s doing an “outside opening.” When he’s inside the tent narrating the show he’s the “lecturer.”

Cool huh?

But the term I’m caught up with at the moment is “Gadget Show” or “Mechanical Show.”

Turns out that a somewhat infrequent attraction to some traveling carnivals was this “gadget show” which featured mechanical devices on display such as tiny villages, where the figures and structures operated and moved. This falls nicely in line with my interest in the various Ancient Inventions that I started looking at a while ago.

One of the people interested in helping with my Carnival Project suggested a display of a reproduction perpetual motion machine from our SCA period (one he can make work *nudge* *nudge* *wink* *wink*) and I would like to try and create one or two of the devices described by Hero of Alexander.

Is there a reference for such a “Gadget Show” to go along with the sort of carnival/festival entity in our SCA period? This I do not know yet. It’s hard enough to find a good list of all the things one might find at a carnval/festival in the first place. But given the interest in automata and such that I can find, I suspect that it’s not outside the realm of possibility at least.

So there you have it. A little stroll through the land of Carny Lingo and I end up with more inspiration for a sideshow.

So many toys. So little time.


About santiagosgrimoire

Magician, Entertainer, Actor, Cook, Leather Worker, Artist and generally very busy.

Posted on September 21, 2012, in Ancient Inventions, Carnival and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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