The Dying Art of Speaking Ceazarnie

By Kelley Fisher


Like other occupational groups, professional wrestlers share a rich body of material, customary, and verbal folklore related to their work.1 For example, specialized jargon plays an important part in communicating inside and outside of the ring (Gutowski 1972, Kerrick 1980). Many longtime professional wrestlers speak Carnie, a traditional cant once common among pro wrestlers and several other culturally insulated American subcultures.2 Professional wrestlers use Carnie to communicate messages they do not want audience members—or uninitiated novices—to understand. For many seasoned wrestlers, being able to speak and understand Carnie is central to the effective and artful performance of their craft in that it prevents miscommunications during a bout that might end in injury.

I was first introduced to Carnie as a written language when I was a pre-adolescent child in school. A fellow student taught me a "secret" language that allowed us to pass notes which teachers could not decipher. At the time, of course, I did not know that this secret language was Carnie. Later, as a member of the professional wrestling community, I learned to speak it and understand it aurally. I now approach the subject with scholarly interest, but also with the perspective of a tradition bearer. It is my hope that research on Carnie will raise awareness of this verbal art and encourage speakers to share the tradition with worthy young performers. The revitalization of Carnie could help rebuild respect for the artistry of professional wrestling, currently being lost to commercialism.

As a professional wrestler for almost a decade, I learned many lessons, which usually involved inordinate amounts of pain, and my trainer once told me that pain is the most effective way to teach the importance of respect. One of the first lessons I learned was that respect is taught through initiation rites, such as "breaking the greenhorn" (Fisher 2012). According to the old-school rules of the wrestling craft, respect among workers is valued above all other things. As performers of dangerous stunts, wrestlers hold a sacred responsibility to take care of each other. One missed step could potentially result in paralysis or even death. Therefore, wrestlers place a great deal of trust in their opponents. This trust involves mutual respect for each other's well-being above all other things. Carnie is an important tool both in the process of learning respect and in deciphering who is trustworthy among peers. Therefore, knowledge of the Carnie language also defines the level of respect a particular performer commands within the hierarchy of wrestlers.

This essay explores professional wrestlers' uses of Carnie as artistic performances (Bauman 1977) that communicate covert messages, teach central rules and values of the craft, establish and enforce hierarchies of respect, and initiate (or exclude) newcomers. Unfortunately, the language has been largely overlooked by scholarship on professional wrestling, which has mainly focused on wrestling as a form of public drama and spectacle (Workman 1977, Ball 1990, Mazer 1998, among others) and on wrestling jargon (Gutowski 1972, Kerrick 1980). In turn, this essay draws on interviews with several professional wrestlers, as well as my own experiences.

History of Carnie

Professional wrestling originated in traveling carnivals in the United States in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. It began as a show of athleticism by particularly talented men, most notably Civil War veterans trying to earn a living after the war (Sehmby 2002). These men, who could rarely be bested in a fight, challenged onlookers to wrestle and brokered wagers on the outcome. Often the hero would first defeat a "plant" (an associate) in the crowd, after which locals would be eager to step up and finish the job the plant started. In order to communicate with each other in front of unsuspecting crowds, wrestlers and plants used a code only decipherable by a trained ear, the language now called Carnie.

Classified by linguists as a cant or argot, Carnie works much the same as Pig Latin, in which a phonemic utterance is added between syllables to render a word unintelligible to the uninitiated. By the rules of Carnie, "eaz" (pronounced "ee-uhz") is inserted before the first vowel of every syllable in a word ("Talking Circus" n.d.). My name, Kelley, becomes "K-eaz-ell-eaz-ey," and the word "is" becomes "eaz-is."3 The cant is accompanied by a collection of slang words or jargon specific to the occupation (Russell and Thomas 2004).

Carnie once was an important means of clandestine communication among carnies (carnival workers) and wrestlers, but it was also an unspoken badge of respect. My own experience confirms the close correlation of respect and competence in speaking Carnie. The first time someone spoke Carnie in front of me in the context of professional wrestling, the intent was to conceal information from me. Once I confessed that I understood what was said, I was made privy to many more insider secrets than I knew before. They even taught me a secret handshake. Within the occupation of professional wrestling, ability to speak the insider language commands instant respect.

A significant portion of professional wrestling is the creation of a persona. The most memorable wrestling personas are not just scripted characters that some promoter invented on a creative day. Perhaps they were conceptualized that way, but the characters evolve from the true personalities of the people performing the role. The wrestler doesn't become the character, the character becomes the wrestler. Each persona develops a reputation, as does the wrestler. It is my desire that the following interviews with some of my fellow wrestlers will illustrate to the reader not only the individual personalities of each persona but also offer the wrestlers' perspectives on initiation and respect and offer insight into the function and vitality of Carnie language within professional wrestling.


Tasha Simone is a twenty-five-year veteran of the wrestling ring and three-time Ladies' World Champion. Standing at five feet six inches tall and weighing about 140 pounds, she has fiery red hair to match a fiery red temperament. I met Tasha through mutual friends outside of professional wrestling, so we easily bonded after I became involved in wrestling in 1995. We have remained friends.

Tasha Simone, Classy ladies champion. Photo: Courtesy of Kelley Fisher.

Tasha has always used Carnie to communicate with me, with the people around her in the dressing room, and in the ring during a match. I have rarely heard her explain herself to someone who didn't understand what she was saying, and she fluently switches between plain English with a Texas accent and Carnie. I recently interviewed her via Skype on a Sunday afternoon between football games. She is an avid fan of the New England Patriots, and it was a condition of the interview that it not take place during a football game.

When I asked her how she learned Carnie, she told me, "I was bounced on Danny Hodge's4 knee as a baby and my Uncle Speazeedy was a carnie." She picked up the language during her critical period of learning, much like a child born into a bilingual household. She also uses Carnie at home with her children, who have learned it the same way she did. Most recently, she used it to hold a private conversation with her daughter in front of public officials, who promptly asked her to translate. She refused and the officials were left completely in the dark about the conversation that they just heard with their own ears but could not understand (Simone 2013).


LV, who wishes to remain anonymous, is another fierce female veteran of the ring willing to take part in this project in hopes of preserving the crafts and traditions of professional wrestling. She has worked in the wrestling business for over twenty years, training under well-known veteran wrestlers, such as Don Bass and the Exotic Adrian Street. LV is of Italian and Native American descent on her mother's side, and she has a bit of a temper, which she attributes to her Italian heritage. Her temper often leads to bluntness in situations that might be defused with a little more diplomacy, but her fearlessness in voicing her opinion has always endeared her to me. I had the pleasure of briefly working in the same company as LV, and she won my respect. Because of this respect, I recently asked LV if she spoke Carnie. She replied, "Not like I used to. Most of the ones now . . . don't get it or don't understand it. You know?" She elaborated, "It's a language that should only be shared with those who truly love, respect, and understand this business." LV has a son whose father also came from the wrestling business. I asked her if her son knew how to speak Carnie: "No, he doesn't. Sadly. He is second generation [of a wrestling family] on my side. Third generation on his dad's. He loves . . . football." LV concluded our interview with a statement that echoes the sentiment of most of the ring veterans I know: "Wrestling used to be a private club with private rules, traditions, language," she said. "It simply is not the same business it once was" (LV 2014).

Wicked Nemesis

Wicked Nemesis, who announces himself as "the oracle of ominous, the architect of intellect, the Wicked Nemesis," is an imposing figure. He stands six feet and three inches tall, has broad shoulders and narrow hips, and wears a Mohawk that gives the illusion that he is seven feet tall. His ego may also be bulletproof. He is the self-proclaimed "Hitler" of wrestling and sometimes sports a Hitleresque mustache. He always wears a mask on his way to the ring and instantly commands attention. Wicked makes a statement with his many different masks, logo t-shirts, blazers, and baggy pants. The masks all have names and are meant to evoke fear. Some have designs, such as his yellow mask with the symbol of Sinestro, a comic book villain, stamped on the forehead. One mask is simply black and, in his words, is "a f___-you to society. It's me doing blackface . . . an Al Jolson tribute." To quote Wicked, "There is nobody like me. At first it was just cheap heat,5 but I needed to make a statement. There will never be anyone like me. The t-shirts and the masks stand out. I've also noticed that the masks appeal to the darker side of people."

Wicked Nemesis, the self-proclaimed Hitler of professional wrestling. Photo: Courtesy of Wicked Nemesis.

He came into the wrestling business in 2006, but says his first exposure to Carnie was in songs by the hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg. His reaction was, "You hear Snoop Dogg saying, 'Fo shizzle my nizzle' and that's pretty damn close to Carnie." One of his trainers called matches in the ring in Carnie—calling a match in the ring is when one of the wrestlers, usually the veteran, calls out the moves while the match is going on, as opposed to discussion and choreographing beforehand—but Nemesis says that he was "totally lost" (Wicked Nemesis 2013).

David Kash

Of all my interviewees, David Kash told a story most illustrative of the relationship between Carnie and respect. Kash came into the wrestling business in the late 1980s; he was already an athlete since he trained as an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter and a boxer from adolescence. He told me that the very first time he wrestled in front of a crowd, the veteran calling the match did so in Carnie. Kash had been trained well and had heard the guys talking in Carnie on road trips, but had never picked it up or understood. He said they never told him, "Hey listen! What we're doing is speaking in Carnie so pay attention!" He just never realized it was important to figure out until a seasoned wrestler showed him his mistake.

Kid Kash. Photo: Courtesy of Kid Kash.

When a scheduled wrestler failed to show up to work against Chief Wahoo McDaniels, Kash's name got thrown up as a replacement. Because of the business's injury-prone and unpredictable nature, all wrestlers know to bring their bags (packed with outfits and gear) on the road with them even if they are not booked. Kash got his first match. Chief Wahoo was calling the match in Carnie and eventually got tired of hearing Kash say, "Huh?" Chief Wahoo backed him into the corner, told him to let out his breath, then hit him so hard he could not take a breath. Kash fell to his hands and knees. Chief Wahoo then kicked him very hard and he rolled over onto his back. Wahoo picked up Kash's foot very casually, did one round of a spinning toe hold, broke his ankle, then leaned over him and said, "Welcome to the business, kid!" (Kash 2013).

Many readers may find this story shocking and brutal, and wonder why anyone would do such a thing. The reality is that the old-school veterans of professional wrestling did not share their craft with just anyone. They demanded respect for the business and they taught it through pain. Kash could not give a performance that would please Chief Wahoo if he couldn't understand directions. Even more important than the aesthetic performance, the potential for injury through miscommunication is too great a risk. By Wahoo's assessment, it was better to teach Kash this lesson now, through an injury that can quickly be overcome, than later through a tragic accident because of his inability to communicate. Wahoo knew that breaking the ankle would result either in Kash's leaving the ring and never coming back or learning to better respect the business, the language, and the importance of clear communication. By virtue of his veteran status in the ring, Chief Wahoo had unquestioned authority to do what he did. Not a single wrestler in the dressing room challenged his decision.

Not surprisingly, Kash reacted to his injury with anger. Having been raised in the very different atmosphere of boxing, he could not understand why someone would hurt him intentionally or why nobody else was outraged about it; however, he did know that his ankle was broken because he didn't understand what Wahoo was saying to him in the ring. He immediately comprehended that Carnie was something he needed to learn, or this would happen again. He wanted to be a part of professional wrestling and a broken ankle would not hinder that. Kash got the opportunity to wrestle Chief Wahoo again at a state fair seven months later. He went in shooting6 and he says it was a total "slugfest" up until the moment he used the Carnie language to ask Wahoo if he wanted more of a fight. The moment Wahoo heard Kash speak in Carnie, he lightened up and showed Kash some respect in the ring. Afterward Wahoo told Kash, "Thank you, kid. That was probably the best match I have had in ten years" (Kash 2013). This exemplifies the close connection of competence in speaking Carnie to respect in the wrestling business, as well as its highly stratified hierarchy.

Quentin Pokerface Williams

Quentin Pokerface Williams is a dynamic performer. He wears a jester hat and paints his face in harlequin halves. I first met him around 1998 as he was performing dressing-room antics after a show at a fellow wrestler's birthday celebration. He was donning different pieces of clothing and stuffing them in satirical proportions to imitate some of our peers. He stuffed the chest of his shirt to look like big breasts and the thighs of his pants to look like big hips, and danced to Rick James's Brick House, emulating our ladies champion at the time. He then changed the stuffing around to make fun of several different members of our promotion (a promotion is a wrestling company) and being the jokester that he is, had the entire crew rolling with laughter. He has been one of my favorite fellow wrestlers since that day. He is currently working to promote his own events with a penchant for "old-school" managerial tactics. In a recent public social media statement, he captured the collective sentiment of the old school on the subject of "respect." He called out newcomers claiming to have paid dues, gave accolades to true veterans who have unquestioningly paid their dues, and explained what "paying dues" truly means. He said:

The "vets" today, for the most part, aren't the same as the vets of yesteryear. Time served doesn't necessarily qualify you as a vet. Being a vet is not only time served, but it's mileage . . . on your body, your mind, and your sacrifice. Being a respected veteran means you have or are willing to give something back to the business. (Williams 2014a)

He went on to explain how passion for the craft of wrestling is the most important element to achieving long-term success in this business. There is no excuse to stay out of the ring. One wrestles injured, one borrows gas money to get to the show, one even misses the funerals of loved ones to make it to the show. To borrow an old adage from the entertainment business, the show must go on. This is not the case anymore. Young wrestlers back out of their commitments because of minor injuries, and they generally lack passion for wrestling.

Poker (as I affectionately call him) also elaborated on what constitutes "giving back" to the business. "Years ago, Motley Cruz and Tasha Simone pretty much retrained me after I had been in the business a few years, without charging a dime. I do the same thing. . . . I more or less continue a wrestler's education or polish them up a bit without charge" (Williams 2014b).

On the subject of Carnie, Poker echoes my other interviewees. He admits that he hasn't given much thought to how little it is used anymore. Only now, after pondering the subject, does he realize how rarely he speaks it presently and how rusty he has become. The implication here is that long-standing, respected traditions gradually fade as the industry naturally evolves. He does agree that he would only teach Carnie to those who have a hunger for the business and a desire to improve themselves and the industry. "In fact," he says, "I am going to give serious thought to implementing that among my trainees." (Williams 2014b) I view this as a positive step toward the revitalization of the use of Carnie and respect for the craft of wrestling. Poker's accomplishments offer an example of how the industry can progress and evolve without compromising certain traditions. He is a businessman and all his events are run for profit. As of today, I do not know of an event run by Pokerface that was not profitable. Poker's love, passion, and respect for the business has enabled him to promote entertaining events that facilitate the transcendence of traditional wrestling values to pop-culture entertainment.

My Initiation

Kelley Leveaux and Tasha Simone. Photo: Courtesy of Kelley Fisher.

My own story may not be as extreme as Kash's, but it too demonstrates the teaching of respect through pain. The very first time I stepped into a ring to train, I overheard my trainer, Moondog Spot, tell the others to make sure I didn't come back. They made me run until I vomited, then made me run some more. They tied my hands in front of me and swept my feet out from under me until I learned to tuck my head and fall flat on my back. They made me bounce off unforgiving ring ropes until I had bruises over bruises covering my entire back. And that was just the beginning. I could go on interminably about the tortures I endured to become a part of the performance art of professional wrestling, but the point is very simple. The old-school veterans used pain as a method to determine those who truly wanted to perform their craft—a craft to which they gave their blood, sweat, and tears. The initial lesson that I brought away from my sessions full of pain was that those who endured the pain and returned to the ring had taken the first step toward paying their dues. Those who did not return simply did not love the business enough to pay the demanded price. Green or inexperienced wrestlers learned to respect the business and their trainers through pain.

Wrestling and Carnie Today

Professional wrestling has changed over time, and the old-school mentality of paying dues and earning the trust of fellow workers is not the same institution that initiates new wrestlers these days. Men and women with attractive physiques and faces are now valued over skills and experience. They simply bring in larger amounts of money as the general direction of all entertainment genres evolve toward the current mass culture "sex sells" mentality. Additionally, the necessity of insider communication is diminished by the increasing role of choreography involved in the new style of wrestling.

Wicked still does not speak Carnie. He understands it but will answer in English. "It's the same as someone speaking Spanish to me," he says. "If someone says to me in Spanish to walk over there and pick up the pillow, I can understand and will go pick up the pillow but I will answer you in English." Nobody speaks it anymore. It is Wicked's opinion that Carnie is disappearing from the wrestling business because of the prevalence of Double Dutch (a cant very similar to Carnie) in the hip hop industry and because wrestling's insider secrets are being exposed to the public for commercial gain. When I asked him to expand on these comments, he answered, "Well, it used to be you could just ask someone in Carnie, . . . but you can't do that anymore, especially at family-oriented shows because the kids understand it from listening to hip hop." By the same token, he says, novices are no longer initiated into the business by people who know and pass on the Carnie language.

This point is punctuated by both Tasha's and Kash's responses to my question about whether they will teach Carnie to newcomers. Kash offers this reasoning:

Why would I teach something that we hold dear to our hearts, that we learned when we were breaking into the business? Carnie has been around for what? Close to a hundred f___ years. Teach that to any kid . . . somebody like Nathan Furious7 that goes into a bar and gets drunk and starts suplexing8 his buddy . . . trying to be impressive. You know what? He didn't take his art seriously, he doesn't take this business seriously so why should I waste my time f___ with somebody that doesn't look at the business the way I look at it or hold it to their heart the way I hold it to my heart?

Kash realizes now the importance to the lesson Wahoo gave him and concedes that it probably saved him from much more debilitating injuries. Tasha says, "When you step into my office, you better learn to speazeak meazy leazanguages or you'll be kissing your own ___." It's a good thing I understood her the first time I "stepped into her office" because I have no doubt she would have made me "kiss my own ___."

Carnivals and Carnie: Back to the Roots

The wrestlers I spoke with believe that the Carnie language—which provided a link between wrestlers and carnies—is already completely gone from carnivals. "I used to be able to get good prizes from the carnies on the mid-way because I knew how to talk to them but now they don't understand me," Tasha commented. Wicked snorted derisively at me, remarking, "Hell! It's already gone." The relevance of the connection is that both industries have similarly evolved to conform to cultural demands and the use of the Carnie language diminishes as a result.

In a 2004 interview with linguists Carol L. Russell and Murrey E. Thomas, lifelong carnival worker Al Stencell noted a sharp decline in usage of Carnie within carnivals and professional wrestling, beginning in the 1960s. Many people became familiar with Carnie through popular radio host Murray Kaufman, who broadcast it nationally to entertain his fans and even published instruction sheets on how to form it (Russell and Thomas 2004). Thus it seems that widespread public knowledge of the cant decreased its value among carnies and other subcultures and possibly contributed to declining usage.

Tasha does not agree with the notion that speaking Carnie is no longer as useful as it once was, though she is the minority among her peers in that opinion. She refuses to defer to young wrestlers who don't understand her, which happens frequently. She usually teaches them a lesson in respect even if it means getting herself in trouble with the promoter. Tasha will always be protective of the business and resistant to the commercial evolution of her craft. She speaks Carnie so easily and rapidly that only a fluent speaker can keep up with her. Poker, for instance, remarked that he had a hard time following Tasha when she was on a roll. Asked if she will try to pass on the tradition, she answered, "I stand steadfastly to the belief that professional wrestling owes us nothing, but rather we, as wrestlers, owe professional wrestling our blood, sweat, tears, and respect."

Use of the Carnie language has diminished considerably among professional wrestlers, in what I view as a direct correlation to the industry's commercialization. As professional wrestling increasingly moves into the sphere of mass culture, occupational folk traditions and artistry are declining. As a wider public becomes familiar with similar cants such as Double Dutch, Carnie loses its effectiveness as coded communication. Its function in delineating respect and hierarchical status among wrestlers is more ambiguous. The art of speaking Carnie is becoming obsolete as tradition bearers no longer view occupational newcomers as worthy of carrying on the tradition. It is my hope, as a bearer of this tradition, to incite my wrestling peers into an active state of invigorating the craft. My question is this: Is there an attainable compromise in the dynamic of professional wrestling that pleases the masses while preserving tradition and if so, how can the Carnie language facilitate that compromise?


1. For classic studies of occupational folklore, see for example Byington 1978 and McCarl 1986. In addition, Marcus and Marcus 2008 offers a useful overview of occupational folklore and its study.

2 Other subcultures that use the Carnie language include traveling carnival workers, prisoners, and various members of the entertainment industry, such as exotic dancers and hip-hop artists. I intend to expand my future research on the use of carnie language to include its functions within these subcultures.

3 There is a slight distinction in pronunciation and morphology at times where pronunciation of the infix ["eaz"] is simplified as well as restricting the infix to only one syllable per word (see Hautzinger 1990). Further research needs to be done to determine if this simplification is an overall modification of the cant over time or if it is a regional or gender variation.

4 An Olympic gold medalist in amateur wrestling known for his exceptional feats of strength

5 "Heat" is slang for purposely making the crowd (or another worker) angry.

6 A slang word in wrestling meaning real or true, not a part of the performance.

7 Name changed because permission was not obtained.

8 A common move in wrestling.


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Simone, Tasha. 2013. Interview with author via Skype, 3 November.

"Talking Circus: The Language of the Big Top." Circus. Accessed August 26, 2014.

Wicked Nemesis. 2013. Interview with author via Skype, 14 November.

Williams, Quentin "Pokerface." 2014a. Facebook post.

___. 2014b. Interview with author via phone, 3 May.

Workman, Mark E. 1977. "Dramaturgical Aspects of Professional Wrestling." Folklore Forum 10: 14-20.

Kelley Fisher has a BA in anthropology from Louisiana State University and is an independent researcher in Baton Rouge. This article was first published in the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany, Volume 24, 2014.