[Ads-l] New to me: 'kayfabe'

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 6 18:00:32 UTC 2021

Thanks for raising an interesting topic, Geoffrey. My previous post on
this topic was intended to be informative and not critical. Nice 1975
citation, Stephen.

The Wikipedia article on "Kayfabe" suggests that a 1937 citation for
"kayfabe" exists. Oddly, no precise citation is presented in the
article. Amazon lists the 1937 book "Fall Guys: The Barnums of Bounce"
by Marcus Griffin which is the most likely candidate based on the
excerpt below. I have not verified the presence of "kayfabe" in the
1937 book. Conceivably "kayfabe" was added to the later annotated

[Begin excerpt]
The term was first documented in a 1937 book by New York sportswriter
Marcus Griffin that described some of the "behind the scenes" aspects
of professional wrestling, suggesting that the term was already in
common use in professional wrestling by that time.
[End excerpt]

Ben Zimmer's post pointed to a glossary on PWTorch.com. The entry for
"Kayfabe, Ka-Fabe" says "Dating back to carnival days" but it does not
seem to give a citation.


Below is a 1958 citation which mentions a wrestling manager (who was
also a wrestler) using the stage name "Boris K. Fabian". This might
have been an inside joke.

Date: November 18, 1958
Newspaper: Bangor Daily News
Newspaper Location: Bangor, Maine
Article: Disciplinary Action Taken After Portland Mat Action
Author: AP News Service
Quote Page 14, Column 2
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
Michael said referees Les Ruffin and Lous Langevin had been barred
from Maine refereeing—at least for awhile—by the Atlantic Athletic
Corp., which governs refereeing along the Atlantic Seaboard.

And the Masked Marvel and his manager Boris K. Fabian, have been
handed indefinite suspensions.
Langevin was the ref Saturday night when the Marvel and Fabian, who
were the “bad guys" in a tag bout emerged victorious.
[End excerpt]

In 1986 a glossary of wrestling terms appeared in a Sunday newspaper
supplement and used the spellings "K-FABIAN" and "K-FABE".

Date: April 6, 1986
Newspaper: The Orlando Sentinel
Newspaper Location: Orlando, Florida
Section: Florida Magazine
Article: A Heel's Diary
Author: Tom Nowicki
Sidebar: Terms of affliction
Start Page 6, Quote Page 9, Column 1
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
WORKER — a wrestler.
K-FABIAN or K-FABE -- everyone but wrestlers, specifically the audience.
[End excerpt]


On Wed, Jan 6, 2021 at 4:54 AM Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu> wrote:
> Reportedly from "Scholastic Wrestling News," an article in an Oregon newspaper:
> There is a special vocabulary among wrestlers, these three claim. For example, the term "Kay Fabian" is used to mean shut up. If a promoter and two wrestlers are in the dressing room discussing how an upcoming match is to go and an outsider walks in, someone will say "Kay Fabian," and everyone will suddenly begin talking about the weather.
> Greensboro Daily News [NC; AmHistN] April 16, 1975, 29/1.
> S. Goranson
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Sent: Tuesday, January 5, 2021 10:26 PM
> Subject: Re: New to me: 'kayfabe'
> Ben Zimmer mentioned "kayfabe" on this mailing list back in 2005
> (before my time) within a thread titled "Carny Lingo". Ben pointed to
> an entry in the "Double-Tongued Dictionary" which is now maintained at
> "A Way with Words":
> [Begin excerpt]
> Both the Keyser and Torch glossaries also have "kayfabe", one of the
> many fascinating terms that I've first encountered on Grant's site.
> https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://www.doubletongued.org/index.php/dictionary/kayfabe/__;!!OToaGQ!7IU8xz2cD6lTZAZl8Txx00PbU18hIrgAufk1snLIVLbSHYJksrjBHgoH6PqqalDu$
> [End excerpt]
> Further back in time, the term was mentioned in a thread titled "kay
> fabe" on this mailing list in 1999:
> https://urldefense.com/v3/__http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/1999-June/000447.html__;!!OToaGQ!7IU8xz2cD6lTZAZl8Txx00PbU18hIrgAufk1snLIVLbSHYJksrjBHgoH6PrM1OYI$
> Nancy Friedman has an up-to-date discussion on her website as she noted:
> https://urldefense.com/v3/__https://nancyfriedman.typepad.com/away_with_words/2016/09/word-of-the-week-kayfabe.html__;!!OToaGQ!7IU8xz2cD6lTZAZl8Txx00PbU18hIrgAufk1snLIVLbSHYJksrjBHgoH6JRFga9W$
> Garson
> On Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 6:38 PM Geoffrey Nathan <geoffnathan at wayne.edu> wrote:
> >
> > Just learned a new word. From an article on Slate about how tomorrow's Senate
> > process is likely to unfold I found the following:
> >
> > 'More than a dozen Republican senators have said
> > they will sign on to various objections,
> > promising to make this year's electoral count a spectacle of kayfabe sedition.'
> >
> > https://urldefense.com/v3/__https://bit.ly/2Xe1HOq__;!!OToaGQ!7IU8xz2cD6lTZAZl8Txx00PbU18hIrgAufk1snLIVLbSHYJksrjBHgoH6E-84Zlo$
> >
> > According to Wikipedia, 'kayfabe' means the kind of scripted 'fight' seen in professional
> > wrestling, where the outcomes are predestined and the 'fighters' remain in
> > character, even outside of the ring while entertaining fans.
> >
> > Geoffrey S. Nathan
> > WSU Information Privacy Officer (Retired)
> > Emeritus Professor, Linguistics Program
> > https://urldefense.com/v3/__https://clasprofiles.wayne.edu/profile/an6993__;!!OToaGQ!7IU8xz2cD6lTZAZl8Txx00PbU18hIrgAufk1snLIVLbSHYJksrjBHgoH6Ftbn0UM$
> > geoffnathan at wayne.edu
> >
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
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