“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.”
This is it folks, the project I’ve been working on and obsessing over for the last couple months. It’s a slim volume, but it contains a wealth of information on “Carny” – a linguistic oddity first developed amongst carnival folk at the turn of the last century, which then found its way into professional wrestling, children’s games, and mainstream hip hop where it is still heard today.
But this is not just a cultural history, it is a personal one as well, since I learned Carny directly from my grandparents and used it frequently in my teenage years as my own secret language. Last year I recalled that my grandfather had kept an album of photographs from their journey with the carnival, and the idea for this book was born. I found some academic papers, books and websites talking about the Carny argot, connected a lot of dots, and ended up with what I believe is the most complete history of its evolution.
The text is accompanied by 30 of my grandfather’s photographs in their original sepia tones – really interesting slices-of-life from an incredibly fascinating period of history, which I’ve annotated with comments on the people, places and things shown (for instance, there were at least three midgets travelling with them that season who ended up playing Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz movie two years later!).
The book is 8.5″x8.5″ with a matte cover, 50 pages. It is under my new imprint Fær Press, which I’ve created to publish all of my future books on a variety of esoteric topics. The list price is $17, and you can buy it directly from Createspace, or from Amazon.com, and it should soon be available to order from your local bookstore.
But wait, there’s so much more! I have also produced a set of postcards featuring 10 of my favorite images from the book, and three 8×10 prints, as well as some bookmarks. You can buy the prints (select one or all three) and postcard sets alone if you are interested in the photographs more than the book contents… and you can buy various sets of these items including a signed copy of the book too (at a discount off the combined prices, of course)! They’re all available at my new Carnival Talk Etsy shop, and here’s a photo of the most complete package (signed book, bookmark, 10 postcards, 3 prints):
Finally, there’s the website at carnivaltalk.wordpress.com. There you can read more about the book, see the Table of Contents, view bonus photographs not published in the book, try out an English-to-Carny translator, visit a bunch of links to carnival websites, movies, books and songs, watch the book trailer, and watch a video compilation of the examples of Carny from popular culture which I mention in the book. And if you haven’t clicked through to any of that yet, here’s the book trailer video, featuring a few of the photographs, and audio of me speaking Carny!
As with all such projects, getting the word out is key. So please, if you know anyone you think might be interested, pass this on! Post the book links, Etsy shop and/or Youtube videos on social media, send them to your friends or colleagues, and especially to anyone you know who loves linguistics, history, old photography, and carnivals or circuses. Thank you in advance for your help!
This has been a true labor of love for me - a way of honoring my ancestors, indulging my academic curiosity, a creative and artistic outlet, and even tied to my spirits in a strange way. I’m very happy to finally be able to share it with all of you.