Carnival Worker Slang To Learn If You Don't Want To Be A Mark 

Jacob Shelton
Updated October 11, 2019 3.3k votes 959 voters 166.3k views 18 items

List Rules Carnival folk only: vote up the terms and phrases you actually use and hear on the job.

You’ve probably been to a carnival or two and encountered more than your fair share of carnival workers. Even the most wet-behind-the-ears rube knows that carnival games can be rigged to separate a mark from their green. If you want to hold onto your grip, then you need to memorize these carnival code words to learn who’s on the up and up, and who’s just working a grift. 

Carnival slang was created so carnies and roustabouts could talk about marks in the open without the chumps realizing it. Commit these state fair worker codes to memory to avoid getting skinned the next time you walk the midway. 


Meaning: Is this a name? Are carnies who use this term discussing a visible impression left on one of their wagons? Not at all. In the carnival world, you're the mark - a gullible, local rube who's happy to hand over their hard-earned cash in exchange for some quality carnie entertainment. 

Use It In A Sentence: That mark just paid 20 clams to play the ring toss, and he still doesn't know it's fixed.

Is this real slang behind the scenes?

Meaning: In the weird world of carnies, a fin could refer to anything. It could be a prop to attach to a shark boy, or it could be something served at the concession stand. But a fin typically refers to a $5 bill. If there's any piece of carnie slang to introduce to your lexicon, it's this one.

Use It In Sentence: You gotta couple of fins to spare? I need to get a roll of quarters.

Is this real slang behind the scenes?

Meaning: This is the easiest carnie term to understand, likely because you've done it in your daily life. A "pitch" is something a talker does when they're trying to sell a product, specifically, when demonstrating how to use a product. A pitch can also be a bit of ballyhoo a talker gives in order to win over a tip of marks. 

Use It In A Sentence: Brad's out there pitching snake oil to the marks, as if they don't know he's full of hot air.

Is this real slang behind the scenes?
Reading The Midway is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Carnival Worker Slang To Learn If You Don't Want To Be A Mark
Photo: George C. Campbell/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0
Reading The Midway

Meaning: With so many signs on the midway, how can you not walk up and down taking in the sites? Unfortunately, that's not the kind of reading to which this phrase refers. If a carnie is reading the midway, they're stalking the midway with their head down, looking for cash or valuables dropped by customers.  

Use It In A Sentence: Clem needs some extra cake, so he's been out reading the midway all night. 

Is this real slang behind the scenes?