American Circus Lingo
|Hide the alfalfa!|
Brodie — An accidental fall (but one which has an element of stupidity or clumsiness, rather than disaster). From the name of Steve Brodie, who in 1886 claimed to have survived a jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.
Bunce — Profits.
Butcher — Strolling vendor selling refreshments or souvenirs.
Carpet Clown — A clown who works either among the audience or on arena floor.
Cattle Guard — A set of low seats placed in front of the general admission seats to accommodate overflow audiences.
Chinese — Extra jobs done by circus personnel without additional pay.
Circus Candy — Very cheap confections with deceptively impressive packaging.
Cirky — Circus counterpart to the word "carny;" a circus employee.
Clem — A fight.
Clown Alley — The clowns' dressing and prop area.
Donniker — A rest room or toilet.
Garbage Joint — The souvenir or novelty stand.
Gilly — Anyone not connected with the circus, an outsider or towner.
Hey Rube! — Traditional battle cry of circus people in fights with townspeople.
Horse — One thousand dollars.
Horse Feed — Poor returns from poor business.
Jackpots — Tall tales about one's exploits on the circus ('war stories'.)
John Robinson — A signal to cut or shorten an act, or to give a very short show altogether. If you were headed out to the ring, someone would say "John Robinson" to call for an abbreviated performance, or in the middle of an act if the ringmaster made the announcement "Would John Robinson please come to the rear entrance," the performer should go right into his last trick.
Jump — The distance between performances in different towns.
Lot Lice — Local townspeople who arrive early to watch the unloading of the circus and stay late. Maybe they leave money behind, but they sure get in the way.
Night Riders — Bill posters for competing circuses, who posted paper for their employers in a gentlemanly fashion by day, and tore down or covered up the bills for their competition by night.
Picture Gallery — A tattooed man.
Pie Car Jr. — On the modern Ringling show, a trailer or wagon that provides meals on the back lot of the arena. What movie companies call "craft services" and rock concerts call "catering."
Punk Pusher — Supervisor of the work crew.
Rat Sheets — Advance posters or handbills with negative claims about the opposition.
(to) See the Elephant — The circus origin of this phrase is obvious. It passed into general popular usage about 1835 meaning "to have seen everything there is to see in the world," and shortly thereafter it took on the added meaning "to lose your innocence and learn a humbling or embarrassing lesson." Among the military it has come to mean "to experience combat for the first time." Even Tolkien's Lord of the Rings makes a sly reference to it, as Sam Gamgee, out in the wide world among amazing things, remarks on finally having seen an "oliphaunt."
|Rat sheets workin'.|
Avoid a Brodie!
Tack Spitter — Banner man or bill poster.
Toby News — Circus-lot gossip, from the european/gypsy "tober," meaning campsite.
Windy Van Hooten's — Name of the mythical "perfect circus" imagined by performers and crew, where everything is wonderful and everyone gets the money, respect and working conditions they deserve, plus some.