The History of Carny Talk In Wrestling


New Smackdown wrestler Kizarny

With the looming debut of new Smackdown star Kizarny many younger fans might be wondering what on earth is coming out of his mouth. Rest assured, he didn’t swallow a wasp and he’s not insane (well maybe a little). He’s speaking Carny. As in buck tooth, fingerless gloves, “I’m gonna rob you of your money at the fairground” carny. But what the hell does this have to do with wrestling?

carny at fair
Typical haggard female Carny

Kizarny’s gimmick seems to be that of a carnival, circus type freak, which he’s been using in the lower ranks for a while now, but the history of the Carny language is deep seeded in the history of wrestling and isn’t necessarily some lame gimmick WWE has just thrown out there.

Before the likes of Snoop Dogg was reassuring his homies by saying “fo shizzle ma nizzle” there was the language of the Carnival, Circus and traveling fairgrounds. One of Pro Wrestling’s roots began as a hustle in the tents of this traveling entertainment staple. Right alongside the boxing and strong man contests, early pro wrestlers would ply their trade in front of a few locals, who either paid to watch, bet on the outcome or got in the ring to try their own skills, only to be stretched for being so foolish.

Carnival Wrestling
Wrestling in the Carny tent

The purpose of the carny language was simply to keep outsiders (aka visitors to the carnival) from knowing what was really going on. It was a way of communicating the hustle privately. To the carnies running things, these dumb locals were the “marks” and this is why people who believe wrestling is real or get wrapped up in it are called marks today. The term plant (as in audience plant) also dates back to this period

A typical scenario that a Carny worker could create, might be setting up a game of “coconut shy” and having his carny friend (the plant) consistently win until a crowd has built up. Then when a mark steps up they may replace the coconuts with glued ones so they can’t by knocked off. If the two carnies want to speak to each other without anyone knowing what they are saying they’ll speak in carny.

Coconut Shy
Its Glued you stupid mark!

In it’s most basic form carny involves replacing the middle of a word with an “izz” sound. So “glue them” would become “Glizzue Thezzem”. This would be said quietly without eye contact so the spectators might just think the carny grunted or something. And thus some mark just got scammed.

The carnival is quite a foul place, full of wheel of fortunes with brakes on them, Lot Lizards (women who sleep around with carnies or truckers, like ring rats with wrestlers) and Butchers (carnies who will take you for every last penny).

In wrestling terms wrestlers would speak carny in the ring when they wanted to “call spots” – tell each other what moves they wanted to do next – If wrestler A was telling wrestler B he wanted to do a clothesline followed by a bodyslam, he’d really say something like “Lizzine slizzam” in a quiet manner whilst in a headlock, concealing themselves from the fans. Today wrestlers often expose themselves on camera by not speaking carny.

Carny was also spoken outside of the ring wherever there were marks. Often wrestlers didn’t “smarten up” their own family members, speaking carny in front of them and portraying wrestling as real.

A common way wrestlers who spoke carny would greet each other would be with a weak hand shake. This showed each other that they were in on the sham. Any mark who shook there hand was more likely to do a manly handshake to prove their toughness and thus revealing that they weren’t insiders and needed to be hidden from any wrestler speak by using carny around them.

As wrestling became less of a local scam and more of a spectacle carny gradually disappeared and now only the legends know the ins and outs of how to speak it. This new character on SmackDown is kind of a homage to what came before.

One question though, won’t it be very annoying to hear this guy cut a promo?