The Secret History of Carnival Talk


Cearzan yearzou spearzeak Cearzarnearzy?

In 1937, my grandparents joined a carnival for a season. He sold candy, she ran the milk-bottle game. In his spare time, he took photographs. And they learned the secret speech of the carnival folk, which they later taught to me.

After speaking Carny for many years, I decided to seek its origins. I fell head-first into the world of the Depression-era travelling carnival, brought to life by my grandfather’s photos. In the process, I discovered a linguistic legacy spanning over a century, and turning up in the most unexpected places.

There is a special magic here. Step behind the scenes and find out what the rubes don’t know.

The Secret History of Carnival Talk by Sarah Kate Istra Winter. Fær Press, April 2014.

8.5 x 8.5″ paperback, 50 pages, featuring thirty never-before-seen photographs printed in original sepia tones. Available on, directly from the author (with postcards), or from your local independent or major bookstore.

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A Brightly Lit, Mysterious World

I was recently interviewed for an article on about the history and appeal of carnivals, and of course, carnival talk.

A Brightly Lit, Mysterious World: Inside the Traveling Carnival

“There’s a feeling with a carnival that it might not be entirely solid or real, that magic could still happen in the cracks,” says Winter. “You may still be able to get your fortune told, you can have your face painted and become someone else, get lost for a moment in a hall of mirrors, or delightfully scared in a spooky ride. There’s a liminal quality that isn’t found in many other places in our brightly lit, modern world.”

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Book Trailer

The book trailer for The Secret History of Carnival Talk – get sneak peeks at a few of the photos, plus hear me speak Carny!

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Permutations of the Carny Cant

A little video I put together with clips (some audio-only) of a few of the examples mentioned in the book, from television, hip hop, spoken word, etc. – plus some Ubbi Dubbi!

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