CIRCUS©winnie caw 2003
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Aba-daba / Any dessert that was served in the cookhouse.

Advance Men / Men who go into towns ahead of the circus to put up heralds and posters publicizing the arrival of the circus.

Alfalfa / Paper money.

All Out and Over / Entire performance is concluded.

Annie Oakley / A complimentary ticket or free pass.

Auguste Clown / A clumsy, slapstick clown who wears no traditional costume.


Back Door / Performer's entrance to the Big Top.

Bally / A platform used by spielers to give the crowd an idea of the show to be seen inside.

Ballyhoo / The spiel shouted in front of the sideshow to attract attention.

Banner / The canvas paintings in front of the sideshow depicting the attractions within.

Bibles / Programs or souvenir magazines.

Big Bertha or The Big One / Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Big Top / The main tent used for the performance.

Blowdown / When the tents are blown down by a storm.

Blow Off / The end of the show when the concessionaires come out.

Blues / The general admission seats.

Boss Canvas Man / The man whose job is to decide exactly where and how the tents should be put up at a new circus lot.

Boss Hostler / The man who traveled ahead of the mud shows to mark the way for the caravan; sometimes used to denote the one in charge of all horses in a show.

Bulls / Elephants (whether male or female).

Bunce / Profits.

Butcher / Refreshment merchants, peddler of lemonade, candy, pretzels and other edibles.


Calliope / A musical instrument consisting of a series of steam whistles played like an organ; pronounced "cally-ope" by circus people.

Carpet Clown / A clown who works either among the audience or on arena floor.

Catcher / A member of a trapeze act who catches the flyer after he has released himself from the bar in a flying return act

Cats / Lions, tigers, leopards, panthers.

Cattle Guard / A set of low seats placed in front of the general admission seats to accommodate overflow audiences.

Center Pole or King Pole / The first pole of the tent to be raised. It is about 60 feet high, weighs about a ton and holds the peak of the tent.

Character Clown / A clown who usually dresses in a tramp costume.

Charivari / A noisy whirlwind entrance of clowns; also called shivaree or chivaree.

Cherry Pie / Extra work done by circus personnel for extra pay.

Clem / A fight.

Clown Alley / A section of tent where clowns put on their makeup and store their props.

Clown Stop / A brief appearance of the clowns while the props are being changed.

Clown Walk-Around / A parade of clowns during which time they stop and do their acts.

Come-in / The period when the public is entering the arena before the circus begins.


Dog and Pony Show / A derisive term for a small circus.

Dona / A woman.

Donikers / Restrooms.

Doors! / Call meaning to let the public in.

Dressage / The art of showing trained horses; animal paces are guided by subtle movements of rider's body.

Dressed / When tickets are distributed so that all sections are filled with no obviously empty areas.

Ducat Grabber / Door tender or ticket collector.

Dukey or Duckie-Box Lunch / The first cookhouse was known as "Hotel du Quai." When pronounced quickly it sounded like "dukey" and the name stuck.

Dukey Run / Any circus run longer than an overnight haul.


En Ferocite / The term used by European circuses to describe American wild animal acts, as opposed to their "tableau" presentations.

Equestrian Director / Ringmaster (derived from early circuses featuring primarily equestrian performers).


Feet Jump-In / Equestrian riding-standing with the feet together, bareback rider jumps from the ground or teeterboard on to back of a running horse.

Fink or Larry / A broken novelty such as a torn balloon.

First of May / A novice performer in his first season on a circus show.

Flatties / People.

Flip-Flaps / The trick of flipping from a standing position to the hands while bareback rider is on a running horse.

Flyers / Aerialists, especially those in flying return acts.

Flying Squadron / The first section of a circus to reach the lot

Framing a Show / Planning a circus production.

Funambulist / Rope walker. From Latin: "funis" --rope, and "ambulare" --to walk.

Funny Ropes / Extra ropes added to regular ones, usually at angles, to give extra stability and spread to canvas tent.


Gaffer / Circus manager.

Galop / Fast tempo band melodies used in certain exits and entrances.

Gilly / Anyone not connected with the circus; an outsider. See also Towner.

Gilly Wagon / Extra small wagon or cart used to carry light bits of equipment around the lot.

Graft / A piece of work-sometimes easy, sometimes hard.

Grafters / Gamblers who often trail a show.

Grotesque / Type of clown who wears exaggerated costume and carries outlandish props.

Guys / Heavy ropes or cables that help to support poles or high wire rigging.


Harlequin / A clown of the commedia dell'arte who dressed in a diamond-patterned costume and who wore a black mask.

Heralds / Circus advertisements, approximately 9 x 20 inches. which can be pasted down or handed out. They are not in color and consist of type and pictures.

Hey Rube! / Traditional battle cry of circus people in fights with townspeople.

High School Horse / A horse who has been taught fancy steps in special riding academies. See also Dressage.

Hits / Places such as walls of grain elevators, barns, buildings, or fences on which heralds and posters were pasted.

Home Run / The trip from Home Sweet Home back to winter quarters.

Home Sweet Home / The last stand of the season when bill posters usually pasted one pack of posters upside down.

Homy / A man. A bona homy is a good man.

Horse / One thousand dollars.

Horse Feed / Poor returns from poor business.

Horse Opery / Any circus (jokingly).

Howdah or Howdy / A seat, often with a canopy, on the back of an elephant or camel.

Human Oddities / Sideshow of abnormal persons.


Iron-Jaw Trick / An aerial stunt using a metal bit and apparatus which fits into the performer's mouth. Thus suspended he performs his tricks.


Jackpots / Tall tales about the circus.

Jill / A girl.

Joey / A clown (derived from Joseph Grimaldi, a famous clown in England of the 18th century).

Jonah's Luck / Unusually bad weather or mud.

Jump / The distance between performances in different towns.

Jump Stand / An additional booth near the front door used to sell extra tickets during a rush by spectators.


Kicking Sawdust / Following the circus or being a part of it.

Kid Show / A sideshow.

Kiester / Wardrobe trunk.

Kinker / Any circus performer (originally only an acrobat).


Layout Man / The lot superintendent who decides the location of the various tents.

Lift / The natural bounce which lifts Bareback rider from ground to back of a running horse.

Little People / Midgets or dwarfs.

Lot / Land leased by the circus for performances.

Lot Lice / Local townspeople who arrive early to watch unloading of the circus and stay late.


Main Guy / Guy rope to hold up center pole in the Big Top.

March, The / The street parade.

Mechanic / The leather safety harness which is worn by flyers in practice sessions and controlled by man below.

Midway / The area near the main entrance where the sideshows are located and concessionaires sell refreshments and souvenirs.

Mud Show / Circus show that traveled overland, not on rails. So named because the wagon wheels were frequently mired in mud.


Nanty / Nothing.


On the Show / Performers and all others connected to the circus. The term "with" the show is not used.

Opposition Paper / Advertising posters which were put up by competing circuses.


Pad Room / Dressing Room. So called because riders hang their pads there.

Paper / Circus posters.

Parlari / Circus people talking.

Perch Act / A balancing act involving use of apparatus upon which one person is performing while being balanced by another.

Picture Gallery / A tattooed man.

Pie-Car / The dining car of a railroad train.

Pitchmen / The salesmen at concessions on the midway.

Planges / Aerialist's body swing overs in which one hand and wrist are placed in padded rope loop.

Ponger / An acrobat.

Possom Belly / Extra storage box attached underneath a work wagon or railway car.


Quarter Poles / Poles which help support the weight of the canvas and take up the slack between center and side poles.


Rat Sheets / Advance posters or handbills with negative slant toward the opposition.

Razorbacks / The men who load and unload railroad cars.

Red Wagon / Box office wagon, main office of circus; also money wagon. This was usually painted red though it could be any color.

Rig / To put up aerial rigging.

Rigging / The apparatus used in high wire or aerial acts.

Ring Banks or Curbs / Wooden curbing around the ring.

Ring Barn / Regulation-sized circus ring for practice at winter quarters.

Ring Horse / A horse which performs in the center ring. He is trained to maintain timing despite distractions.

Ring Stock / Circus animals which perform in the show, including horses, llamas, camels, and ponies.

Risley Act / Three acrobats lying on their backs who toss a fourth acrobat from one to the other.

Roll-Ups / Tame US aerial plunges.

Roman Riding / A rider standing on the backs of two horses.

Roper / A cowboy.

Rosinback / Horse used for bareback riding. So named because horses' backs were sprinkled with rosin to prevent rider from slipping.

Roustabout / A circus workman, laborer.

Rubbermen / The men who sell balloons.


Safety Loop / The loop part of a web rope into which a performer places her wrist in aerial ballet numbers.

Segue / Music bridge used in changing from one tune to another without stopping.

Shanty or Chandelier / The man who works the lights.

Shill / A man used a decoy; an employee who stands in line to make the box office look busy and walks in without paying.

Sky Boards / The decorated boards along top of cage wagons used in parades.

Slanger / Trainer of cats.

Sledge Gang / Crew of men who pounded in tent stakes.

Soft Lot / A wet or muddy lot.

Spec / Short form for spectacle. A colorful pageant which is a featured part of the show; formerly used as the opening numbers, now presented before intermission.

Spec Girls / Comedy showgirls who appear in grand spectacle.

Spieler / An announcer.

Splash Boards / Decorated bottom edge of cage wagons used in parades.

Stand / Any town where the circus plays.

Star Backs / More expensive reserved seats.

St. Louis / Doubles or seconds of food. So named because St. Louis engagement was played in two sections.

Strawhouse / A sell-out house. Straw was spread on ground for spectators to sit upon in front of general admission seats.

Swags / Prizes


Tableau Wagons / Ornamental parades wagons. Costumed circus performers rode atop them.

Tail Up / Command to an elephant to follow in line.

Talkers / Ticket takers for sideshow--never called "barkers".

Tanbark / The shredded bark from trees from which tannin has been extracted and used to cover circus arena ground.

The Big One / Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Toot Up / To get attention of spectators by playing the calliope.

Tops / Tents; for example, dressing tops are where the performers dress for show.

Towners / Townspeople; any outsiders. See also Gilly.

Troupers / Circus entertainers.

Trunk Up / Command to an elephant to raise his trunk in a salute.

Turnaway / A sold-out show.

Twenty-four-hour Man / An advance man who works one day ahead of circus.


Wait Brothers Show / Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Show. So called because the posters read, "Wait for the Big Show."

Web / Dangling canvas-covered rope suspended from swivels from the top of the tent.

Web Girl / Female who performs on web in aerial ballet sequence.

Web-Sitter / Ground man who holds or controls the web for aerialists.

Windjammer / A member of a circus band.

With It / An expression meaning loyalty to the show.


Zanies / Clowns.



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