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Dialects – Let’s Translate Showman Slang!

What is a Showman: Someone who works in the entertainment industry

My family are settled showpeople and over the years and still today, my parents and siblings still use showman slang daily. Growing up, I took these terms with a pinch of salt, it was only whilst studying linguistics at university and when one of my classes was based on the Romani language, that I thought in depth about it and I was intrigued by the history of language and its connections. Growing up, I surpassed how Romani was linked to the slang that is used between family and friends of mine, but I do always remember having to use the word ‘caravan’ in place of ‘trailer’ to school friends who weren’t familiar with the terms, or rather I would use ‘trailer’ and then translate. When I moved off to boarding school and university, I didn’t use it as much, as no-one understood, but I am able to quickly adjust when I am around my family and other showpeople. I am proud of the different language terms we use, not because I like to exclude others, but because it’s a way of expressing my background, something which I am very proud of.

Showman slang is also known as fairground slang, carnie talk, circus and fairground lingo. Although it can be used to exclude others, this is purely to ascertain that the other person is also a showperson. It is often related to ‘Palari’ (a language once extremely popular among the gay community) and is said to have derived from a mixture of pidgin English and other languages and dialects such as; Romani Gypsy, Cockney back slang and Yiddish. It is also known for this slang to be have been used in the past by theatre performers, merchant navy sailors, the gay subculture and undercover policemen, but it mainly contains expressions of Romani origin.

An interesting fact: ‘Wonga’ comes from the Romani term ‘Vonga’, meaning money

Some older travelling showmen have concerns that because there are more children settling down and choosing other professions, the slang is starting to die out. But one thing is evident, the entire showman community, travelling and settled, is interested in their own slang and dialect and will use it to show patriotism towards their background and way of life.

Parts of the showman slang have more recently been adopted in the wider community, such as the word ‘chavvy’ (meaning child) which is related to ‘Chav’, now referring to a young person dressed in a tracksuit and baseball cap. You may also be familiar with the term ‘Cushti’, popularised by its use by Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses and more recently by the celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver.

Barney Argument
Bevvy Alcoholic drink
Chavvy Child
Chap Fairground worker
Chor Steal
Cushti / Chusty Good / nice
Dinglo An idiot
Open A term used to relate to taking money

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About Sharon Stephens

Sharon Stephens is Operations Director of Lingua Translation. With a First Class Honours Degree in Translation and a University Lecturer in Translation (Masters), she is a self confessed language geek! Bringing the academic principles of translation and business together Sharon offers a quality-driven and needs centric translation and interpreting service - like no other.

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