Carny or carnie is a slang term used in North America for a carnival (funfair) employee, and the language they use, particularly when the employee runs a "joint" (booth), "grab joint" (food stand), game, or ride at a carnival, boardwalk or amusement park. The term "showie" is used synonymously in Australia.
Carny is thought to have become popularized around 1931 in North America, when it was first colloquially used to describe one who works at a carnival. The word carnival, originally meaning a "time of merrymaking before Lent," came into use circa 1549.
The carny vocabulary is traditionally part of carnival cant, a secret language. It is an ever-changing form of communication, in large part designed to be impossible to understand by an outsider. As words are assimilated into the culture at large, they lose their function and are replaced by more obscure or insular terms. Most carnies no longer use cant, but many owners/operators and "old-timers" still use some of the classic terms.
The British form of fairground cant is called "Parlyaree".
Usage in popular culture
The fourth season of Heroes features several characters that live and work in a traveling carnival.
The HBO series "Carnivàle" centered around a traveling carnival in the American Southwest during the 1930s.
In Theodore Sturgeon's novel The Dreaming Jewels, the hero flees with carnies to escape a brutal father. The head carny collects unusual people because he has discovered strange jewels that create people as works of art. Sturgeon himself worked as a carny for a time.
Barry Longyear's Circus World books Circus World, City of Baraboo and Elephant Song are science fiction, set on a planet populated by the descendants of a crashed space-going circus, with preserved and evolved carny culture elements including performance as a means of barter.
The Joni Mitchell song "That Song About The Midway" depicted the singer falling in love with a carny and following the show from town to town.
Carnival Games (known in Europe as Carnival: Funfair Games) is a video game made for the NintendoWii and Nintendo DS featuring a carny who helps to present and explain gameplay.
Many Carny words are still used by professional wrestlers, e.g. mark, work, snozz, et al. Pro wrestling originated in the carnivals of the 19th and early 20th century where wrestlers not wanting to face regular injury and wanting to make bouts more entertaining would 'stage' their fights. Carny language was used to disguise the staged nature of the bouts with all involved keeping "kayfabe" or protecting the secret.