Today, Carnivals and carnival operators have a certain stigma - one which was earned at the inception of carnivals at the turn of the century.
At that time the elements of a carnival were mostly games and shows. They were often based on illusion; an illusion that you could win every time, an illusion that you could acquire something for relatively nothing, an illusion that a mermaid could be in a fish bowl, or an illusion that the local tough could defeat a professionally trained wrestler.
But today that stigma is undeserved; carnivals are very different . The public is sophisticated, competition is fierce - carnivals have had to adapt to compete with Disney, television, movies. No more do you find freak shows, wrestling shows, or fixed games. Today's carnival is all sound, lights, and movement. The carnival is for the young, particularly for young lovers and would-be lovers.
But the reputation that took 50 years to earn could take just as long to erase. Part of that reputation involves the belief that carnies have their own language. In fact, today, very few words heard on the midway would not be understood and recognized as slang. Most of the carnie language is long gone. As the carnival has changed, so has the need for a special language. The original intent was a language which could be understood only by fellow carnies.
The Carnival Dictionary has been compiled from the working carnival, associates, and miniature printed dictionaries of about ten to fifteen printed pages, that were often used for self-aggrandizement by showmen. The Carnival Dictionary should not be taken as the final word on carnival talk. It is more a list of words with descriptive definitions, some from the above sources, but most from Patty Conklin.
James Wesley " Patty" Conklin, born in Brooklyn, lived the history of the carnival. Around 1900, as a youngster, he left home to join show business, working Coney Island in New York and travelling with the circus and carnival. He took the name Conklin when he was adopted by the Conklin family, who owned and operated Conklin Shows. Attracted by Canada's west, Patty Conklin, travelled to Winnipeg in 1922 to give the prairies a try. Two years later he purchased a halfinterest in the Vancouver-based Garrett Shows. "The Conklin & Garrett All Canadian Shows, truthfully advertised and honourably presented" pioneered Western Canada until 1932. In 1932 the show relocated to Hamilton, Ontario. In 1938 he acquired the contract for the Canadian National Exhibition.
Patty made the transition from a "racket" show to the modern carnival , introducing many of the innovations which today we take for granted - super rides, kiddie lands and spectacular games, whose popularity was based on lavish prize-winning.
Patty dedicated his life to the improvement of both the carnival industry and its workers, workers who bear, even today, that stigma of being different; of perhaps not quite dishonesty, but certainly untrustworthiness.
As the leader of the industry in both Canada and the United States, Patty was the carnies' carnie. His ambition was to improve the image of carnies. This dictionary is dedicated to that cause.
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