Because circuses often featured performers from around the world, a new language began to develop to help them communicate. It was called Parlari, a name that must have some distant relationship to parler, the French verb for “to speak.” Many Parlari terms come from the gypsy language, Romani. It was most commonly spoken in British circuses, but as you’ll see, these terms come from all over and would have been familiar in circuses everywhere.
Here are just a few Parlari terms. Many more can be found at the delightful Circus Arts Home Page.
atch, atching: means “moving” in the sense of moving the circus to the next town. ”Where are you atching to next?” Derived from a Romani term for camping site.
chavvi: a boy.
denali: money. Possibly from the Italian word for “pence.”
donah: a woman.
joey: white-faced clown. ”Joeying around” is clowning around.
kushti: nice, good. Traces back to a Persian word for “happiness.”
moulti: opposite of kushti, although I haven’t identified a Persian or Farsi connection.
omey: a man.
scarper: to run off.
spiel: a speech describing what’s going on. (In sideshows, the person outside the tent is often called the spieler or the talker.)
voltige: the horse-riding act that involves standing on horseback and jumping from horse to horse. Related to the French, a voler, to fly.