CIRCUS TERMS: Water for Elephants Study Guide

In a few short weeks, Water for Elephants will begin filming.  You may hear strange phrases thrown around during filming – like “Kinkers”, and “Redlighted”.

If you’ve read the book or even just the movie script, you may already know what these terms mean.  But some of you (ahem – NOT me) are getting tired of going into a movie on opening night with the ability to recite every actor’s lines like an understudy on speed.  Have you refused to read the book or the script?  Wanna be surprised?  Or maybe you read the book a while back and need a refresher.  This post is for YOU!

After the break, learn the definitions of many of the circus terms used in Water for Elephants..

Here are definitions/explanations of some of the terms used throughout Water for Elephants.  Use it as a study guide.  Preparation without spoilers.

  • First of Mayrookie
  • Roustabout - a laborer typically performing temporary, unskilled work
  • Rubestownspeople
  • Redlightedthrown from a moving circus train during the night
  • Liberty Horse - a show horse that performs movements to verbal commands

Silver Star?

  • Monday Man - a man who would steal from the townspeople (usually from their clotheslines)
  • Foundering – in horses, when the bone in the foot becomes detached from the hoof. This is caused by overfeeding or riding the horses for long periods on hard surfaces.
  • Hay Burners – horses are often called hay burners because they eat so much
  • Bull Hook - an elephant herding tool with a sharp tip

Ouch. Poor Rosie.

  • Prosze – “please” in Polish (pronounced prosheh)
  • Jake - drank as an alcohol substitute during Prohibition, a patent medicine product known as Jamaica Ginger — a ginger extract

Doesn't this look thirst-quenching? AS IF!

  • Kinkers - a performer in a circus
  • Jamaica Ginger Paralysis aka “Jake Leg”A large number of Jake users in the 1930′s began to lose the use of their hands and feet due to contaminated Jake
  • HippodromeU-shaped track for the animals and performers

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  • http://tinkrbe1l3.wordpress.com tinkrbe1l3

    Silver Star looks chunky! Lay off the hay, Silver!

    Great post :) I never quite got WHY they called them hay burners. (im sloooooooo)

  • Sus

    Thanks for enlightening us….I’m reading the book right now, learning the verbage, and picturing Rob as Jacob! I think he’ll be awesome in that part!

  • Marilyn

    I am almost finished with the book. Loving it. These short, concise definitions you posted are wonderful! Thank you. And I am hyped to see the movie. I think Christopher Walz will be fantastic as August.

  • Kenna

    While reading the book, I ran across the term “tchotchke” which I believe to be Polish. However, I can’t find the defenition of this word anywhere. I think this word should be added to this website.

    • Bill

      You can find the description on Wkipedia,

  • Soulflower

    Thank you, ever so much. I have just started reading this book and while most of the terms are understood by context, a few of them eluded me.

  • Kelly Williams

    Just finished reading “Water for Elephants”. What a great read! If it’s true no one carried buckets of water for the elephants to drink, then how did the elephants get enough water to drink during the depression era circus??

  • Albert de Louisville

    The elephants were taken to the water. They drink 60 or 70 gallons a day. That would be a lot of buckets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/manona.gamal Manona Gamal

    very beautiful horse ((*_*))
    i love it