This essay examines the history and ongoing livelihood of Carnie, a subcultural argot once popular among workers in circuses, carnivals, sideshows, athletic shows, and, more recently, professional wrestling. Through the use of published sources as well as personal interviews, we trace the origins of the argot to the late nineteenth century, when it may have been used exclusively as a secret language to conceal the illicit activities of some carnival and circus employees, then illustrate the many functions it has served since: as a means of delimiting and maintaining social boundaries; as a children's play language; as a secret language among family members, among the members of various noncircus and noncarnival underworld subcultures, and among penitentiary inmates; and as the show business language of a popular rock and roll disc jockey.


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Print ISSN
pp. 400-416
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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