“You call it wrestling, they term it ‘working’ … As Shakespeare once said: ‘A rose by any other name,’ etc.” So Marcus Griffin began his groundbreaking 1937 book on the ins and outs of the pro wrestling business, Fall Guys: The Barnums of Bounce. It’s a good place to start, because any discussion of the grunt-and-groaners (as Griffin would call them) inevitably involves an examination of the artifice that undergirds the endeavor, and that artifice — be it the antediluvian secret that the whole show is a put-on, or the modern-day pretense that both actors and audience interact as if it’s legitimate — is itself bolstered by an intricate, seemingly inane vocabulary of lingo, idiom, and jargon.
Every subculture has its lingo, but the subbier the culture, the more unintelligible the dialect can be. Couple that with an industry conceived on falsehood and dedicated to keeping the lie alive, and you’ve got a rabbit hole that even the most stalwart of linguists would think twice before exploring. We take a stab at it here. The most obvious of terms, those used in common parlance outside the wrestling world — pin, feud, dud, etc. — are mostly omitted, despite their prevalence inside the biz. Some terms are listed within other definitions for readability’s sake. As with anything of this sort, this list is far from complete — and as with anything so idiomatic, the definitions are frequently debatable. Though some of the terms are obscure, their purpose is larger. The terms obscure the industry’s realities, sure; they function as a secret handshake among those with insider knowledge, obviously; but moreover, they try to describe a unique, oddball enterprise in terms of its own bizarre artistry.
Again to Griffin: “Like Shakespeare’s famed line, the wrestlers ‘suit the action to the word and the word to the action,’ and thus create in their bouts what is known as ‘heat,’ or as Pope expressed it, they ‘awake the soul by tender strokes of art.’”
WARNING: Using these terms among those in the professional wrestling business will not endear you to them. In fact, the exact opposite effect may occur.
angle (n.) — A story line or plot in the wrestling product, as in, “They’re working a classic underdog angle.” It can be employed in either small-bore usage — i.e., the angle in a match — or in large-scale terms to describe a lengthy story. The term is borrowed from the archaic criminal/carnie phrase “work an angle,” which means figuring out a scam or finding an underhanded way to make a profit.
Andre shot (n.) — A trick by which a camera is positioned beneath a wrestler, looking up, so as to make the wrestler look bigger. Famously used to make the 7-foot-4 Andre the Giant look even bigger than he was.
Apter mag (n.) — The blanket name for the wrestling magazines that were mostly published in the ’70s and ’80s, named after famous photographer and editor Bill Apter. Not unlike tabloid magazines of today, these publications were notorious for keeping kayfabe. (Sometimes they’d create their own kayfabe. When details were unavailable, they sometimes made up feature stories and interviews with only a couple of photographs to go on.)
babyface (n.) — A heroic or good-guy wrestler. (Also known as: face; baby [archaic].) (Antonym: heel.)
BAH GAWD! (exp.) — A shocked evocation of the deity in order to underscore the gravity of a moment or situation, popularized by announcer Jim Ross. Must be screamed loudly in a pinched Southern tenor. (Related expressions: MAH GAWD!; GOOD GAWD ALMIGHTY!; slobberknocker — an unsightly brawl; shades of [wrestler X] — when a wrestler uses a move in a manner reminiscent of a previous wrestler; business has just picked up — an unexpected entrance that raises the stakes in a segment; bowling shoe ugly — a roughneck or plainly (and woefully) uncoordinated match; That’s [wrestler X]’s music! — a surprise appearance by a wrestler, as forewarned by his entrance music playing before he appears in person.)
bicycling (ger.) — Mostly archaic term used for sending television tapes around a territory to show on the various TV stations that would air the program. This was necessary primarily in the Territorial Era, when film was expensive and wrestling promotions were spendthrift.
blood (n.) — Throughout the history of the pseudo-violent world of pro wrestling, blood has frequently been employed to dramatic effect. Contrary to most assumptions, though, the blood isn’t fake; it’s actual blood drawn deliberately, usually by means of a small, secreted razor blade. The process of drawing blood this way is called blading; the razor is called a gig, and the resultant scar (as seen crossing the foreheads of many wrestlers from the ’70s and ’80s) is a gig mark. To bleed is to show color (or get some color) or to geek; a blood-covered face is called a crimson mask; a hearty bloodletting is called a gusher; to get busted open naturally (i.e., without the assistance of a razor blade) is called getting busted open “hardway” (as in “the hard way”). Among the nerdier portion of the fan base, bloody matches are sometimes rated on the Muta scale, a zero-to-one scale that refers to an almost indescribably bloody match between the Great Muta and Hiroshi Hase in Japan in 1992. Red means green is a saying that asserts that bleeding in the ring will draw more money.
blow up (n.) — To tire out or become exhausted during a match. Usually the sign of an inexperienced or constitutionally deficient wrestler; frequently this applies to a wrestler more focused on looking good than on actually performing, known colloquially as All show, no go. (Also known as: gassed.)
bonzo gonzo (n.) — An ending for a tag team (or other multi-party) match in which all the wrestlers are in the ring at once despite the rules and the referee cannot restore order.
booker (n.) — The head decision-maker in a wrestling promotion who writes or otherwise plans out a show. To book a show is to plan the story lines and match outcomes. To have the book is to be in charge of the creative process. In the old days, the booker would usually be the owner or a lieutenant or sometimes the top star; in the ’90s, the process fanned out into “booking teams,” and further into a loose network of writers (who literally script the television product based on the booker’s decisions), producers, and agents, the latter-most of whom are usually former wrestlers tasked with planning untelevised road shows and working out match specifics. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably. A promoter is the head of a wrestling outfit (promotion), taken from the early 20th century, when wrestling functioned more like boxing, and adapted to mean the head of a company even in the modern era. Similarly, matchmaker is sometimes a synonym for booker, but it is often a figurehead title publicly given to someone to maintain legitimacy by calling to mind the legitimate role in boxing and other combat sports.
boom boom boom (n.) — A narrative portion of a match, usually at the end, when both wrestlers perform their signature moves.
botch (n., v.) — As a noun, a failed or misexecuted move. As a verb, to flub something in the ring, as in, “Joe botched that dropkick.” (See also: blown spot.)
Broadway (n.) — A mostly archaic term for a match that results in a draw due to the full time limit.
brother (n.) — A catchall name for fellow workers, most famously employed onscreen by Hulk Hogan.
bump (n.)— A move taken in the ring resulting in a hard fall or landing, or (as a verb) to take such a move. It can also refer to the act of selling.
bury (v.) — To make someone look bad in a match, or more broadly to lower them down the ladder of significance; the usage is always negative and the motivation is usually political. To have a wrestler lose in an ignominious fashion incongruous with their standing prior to the match can be burying them; to more generally take a top-tier wrestler and demote him into a jobber or take him offscreen altogether is burying him. The incongruity is key — it’s a real-time transposition of a wrestler’s high worth with its opposite. Ex.: “Joe just got buried in that match. He must have pissed off somebody important.” Backstage, the term is used as a synonym for “talk shit,” as in, “I overheard Joe burying you to the owner.”
business (n.) — This term has multiple interrelated usages in the pro wrestling world. It’s the inside term for the wrestling industry (as in “the business” or, as commonly used onscreen by Triple H, “this business”); it’s a measure of success (“Did you see the crowd? We really did business tonight!”); and it’s the concept of doing what’s asked of you despite any inclination not to, specifically in agreeing to lose (“I know you don’t want to lose, but you gotta do business here”). (Related phrases: “doing business on the way out” (exp.) — the tradition of losing in your last match for a company so as to help build up remaining talent; “going into business for yourself”(exp.) — making yourself look good at the expense of your opponent, or changing the scripted outcome of a match on the fly to work in your favor.)
call a match (v.) — To dictate the choreography of a match as it happens. Though some matches are fully scripted ahead of time, most wrestling matches are largely improvised, so to maintain order, one wrestler in the ring is tasked with calling the match to smoothly transition from spot to spot. Usually it’s the older/more experienced of the two, though this isn’t a rule; some tradition has it that the heel should always call the match. A wrestler known for being good at calling matches is known as a ring general. On his podcast, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin gives the following example of calling a sequence in a match: “Lock up, grab a head lock, one tackle, drop down, duck the clothesline, reverse, hip toss, and watch out for the Iron Claw.”
card (n.) — Traditionally, a night’s match lineup; more broadly, a measure of position within the promotion or company, as in, “Joe’s a main-eventer. He’s at the top of the card.”
chain wrestling (n.) — A sequence of traditional grappling, usually used at the beginning of a match to establish equivalency between opponents, featuring basic moves like lock-ups, headlocks, reversals, and tosses. Chain wrestling is used more prevalently in Japan and Mexico than in contemporary American wrestling, and when employed in America it’s often an exhibition-style paean to “serious” wrestling fans.
championship (n.) — The contemporary WWE-approved term for a title belt. Other synonyms over the years include belt, title, strap, gold, and ten pounds of gold. Losing a title is often referred to as dropping the strap.
clubberin’ (n.) — A bastardization of “clobbering,” it’s an attack or a fight, often an uneven beatdown, as coined by noted word mangler “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. As in, “We’s gonna have us a clubberin’ tonight.”
cutoff (n.) — The narrative point in a match where the heel stops the babyface’s assault and goes on the offensive, usually through nefarious means (like an eye gouge or a low blow).
dark match (n.) — A match that happens at a televised event before the show is on the air or after it goes off; a pseudo-synonym is preliminary match (from which the derogatory “preliminary wrestler” is derived), though the latter doesn’t relate specifically to television. An event that happens off-camera in the modern age is called a house show.
dirt sheet (n.) — Originally a newsletter with insider info for wrestling fans, now it’s a broader term for websites that purport to break news.
double down (n.) — The penultimate narrative portion of a match, in which both combatants lie prone and tension builds as the crowd waits to see who will be the first to his feet and thus claim advantage at that late stage.
draw (n.) — Besides the traditional definition (a match ending with no decisive winner), “draw” is also used to describe a wrestler or match that will attract fans. (“The Russian is a real draw” or “Joe versus the Russian is gonna draw big money.”) Drawing power is the consistent ability to attract fans. Draw is sometimes used (usually archaically) to mean an advance on pay.
drizzling shits, the (n.) — In wrestling lingo, the worst pejorative for a match, as in, “The Russian’s match tonight was the drizzling shits.” Sometimes abbreviated to “the shits.”
external occipital protuberance (n.) — The back of the head, as described by longtime WWF play-by-play man Gorilla Monsoon.
feeding the babyface (n.) — An act during the good guy’s big comeback toward the end of a traditional match structure wherein the heel will sometimes run into an attack from the face, fall down, immediately get back up, and get hit again, ad nauseam.
fernum (n.) — A mostly archaic term for any sort of commonplace item/gimmick, such as a table or a blade.
fight from underneath (v.) — To wrestle as an underdog, usually as a smaller wrestler facing a more imposing one.
finish (n.) — The scripted ending of a match. A finisher is a wrestler’s match-ending move. A clean finish is a fair pinfall win; a dirty finish occurs when the ending is marred by cheating or is otherwise in dispute; a false finish is when the wrestlers convey one ending only for it to turn out to be misdirection or to have it reversed. A Dusty finish is a particularly notorious form of false finish wherein the underdog hero appears to beat his foe, only to have the win overturned on a technicality at a later date; this allows the fans to have the excitement of a big win while maintaining the status quo. A screwjob is a finish in which the promoter and one wrestler conspire to have the other wrestler lose without his foreknowledge. A double cross is when a wrestler refuses to abide by the scripted ending, usually of his own volition (a version of going into business for oneself), described by Jim Cornette as “no-sell and drive away.” The finish man is a member of a tag team whose role is to work the ending of a (usually victorious) match.
five moves of doom (n.) — The five-move sequence by which a wrestler ends his matches; an extension of the finisher. Famous examples of wrestlers who employed five moves of doom include Bret Hart (inverted atomic drop, Russian leg sweep, backbreaker, elbow drop from the second rope, and Sharpshooter), Shawn Michaels (Manhattan drop, flying forearm, scoop slam, elbow drop from the top rope, Superkick), and John Cena (flying shoulder block, sit-out hip toss, side-release spinout powerbomb, Five Knuckle Shuffle, Attitude Adjustment).
foreign object (n.) — The unnecessarily officious term for an illegal weapon secretly used in a match. Examples include (but are not limited to) rolls of quarters, brass knuckles, lengths of chain, spikes, pencils, loaded gloves, and loaded boots. Championship belts and other ringside accoutrements (microphones, ring bells, ring stairs, etc.) are illegal objects but not literally foreign. During the 1980s, Turner Broadcasting Company disallowed the term during broadcasts, so they temporarily substituted international object.
Freebird rule (n.) — A questionable rule by which a trio can defend tag-team titles with any two of their three members; named for a three-man group called the Fabulous Freebirds.
future endeavored (v.) — Fired, adapted from the WWE’s standard press release script after firing a wrestler that famously wishes them “all the best in their future endeavors.”
gaga (adj.) — An overabundance of gimmickry in a match (especially in the ending), like a match with a run-in and a lights out and a ref bump, when one of the three would have sufficed.
gas (n.) — 1. A term for steroids, as in “on the gas” or “gassed up.” (Also see juice.) 2. To be gassed is to be physically exhausted, as in “out of gas” (see blow up).
gimmick (n.) — A wrestler’s persona, character, or motif. As in, “The Russian’s working the evil-foreigner gimmick.” It can also refer to the scripted quality of a match, as in, “That match had too much gimmick.” In insider usage, it can also refer to plunder used in the ring or any unusual foreign object introduced, like, “For the ending, let’s have the Russian hit Joe with a gimmick.” (In this instance, it’s a synonym for fernum.) In backstage lingo, “gimmick” is a stand-in for basically any physical noun, like referring to a bag by saying “grab your gimmick and let’s go” or referring to a pacemaker as a “heart gimmick”; or as a euphemism for drugs, from prescribed painkillers to street drugs. If an object is “gimmicked,” it’s rigged for misdirection, as in a chair or table made to easily fall apart when used as a weapon.
go home (n.) — The ending of a match or card — as in, “Let’s do a waistlock and then head into the go home” — or, as go home show, the modern term for the last TV episode before a pay-per-view event.
Gorilla position (n.) — The area behind the curtain atop the entrance ramp from which management often watches the show; named for wrestler turned announcer Gorilla Monsoon, who oversaw many 1980s WWF events from that spot. (A lesser-used corollary is Okerlund, which is the raised stage in the corner of the arena [not backstage] where “Mean” Gene Okerlund would conduct live interviews.)
green (adj.) — Inexperienced in the ring; often expanded by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to greener than goose shit.
grunt-and-groaners (n.) — Archaic term for wrestlers.
hardcore (adj.; n.) — A style of wrestling that features blood, real violence, and weapons and other obstacles of various sorts — barbed wire, Kendo sticks, folding tables, folding chairs, thumbtacks — to increase drama. The form was most notably used on the American independent scene from the ’90s to the present (most famously in ECW) and in Japan, where the Death Match is a vaunted form. In America the hardcore style is sometimes synonymous with backyard wrestling, which is largely wrestling in makeshift rings among untrained amateurs, where weaponry is often employed. A hardcore match that is overreliant on violent spots or other gimmickry at the expense of technical wrestling is sometimes derisively called a garbage match.
heat (n.) — Any notable response from the crowd, usually used to mean the desired reaction, as in, “Your match really drew some great heat tonight.” It’s frequently used to connote a negative response from the crowd, usually a desired effect by a villain, as in, “The Russian really drew heat by spitting on the flag.” There are various forms of heat within the lexicon: Canned heat (or a heat machine) describes pumping in cheers or boos over the loudspeakers (or overdubbed in postproduction) to guide or bolster crowd reactions; cheap heat refers to using obvious or inflammatory shortcuts to getting boos (common instances involve making fun of the city you’re wrestling in, invoking anti-American sentiments, or yelling, “You people shut up!” at the fans); white heat is a term for fans being awed beyond cheers, described by Dusty Rhodes as “the arena [getting] stone-cold quiet”; real heat (and variations thereof) is often used to refer to crowds rioting or otherwise getting legitimately dangerous (as opposed to just booing to play along); and X-Pac heat (or go away heat) is the term for getting boos not because you’re a proficient villain but because the crowd doesn’t want to see you at all (the former term is named for Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, a near-universally loathed ’90s-’00s wrestler). A heater is the big, strong guy in a team or faction who draws fear/respect from the crowd. “Heat” is also used backstage to describe bad feelings or anger engendered by someone or between two parties, as in, “Joe’s not going over because he’s got heat with the owner.”
heel (n.) — A bad-guy wrestler. Antonym of babyface. A monster heel is a massive, frightening villain.
hide (v.) — To choreograph a match (or a series of them) so as to cover up a wrestler’s lack of ability/health/training, as in, “Joe hurt his ankle, so let’s hide him in a tag-team match tonight.”
hippodrome (n.) — An archaic term for a performed falsehood or fake sporting contest, often applied to wrestling.
hope spot (n.) — The narrative portion of a match in which the babyface looks as if he’s on the verge of winning, only to be dramatically rebuffed.
hotshot (v.) — To rush a story line or angle, usually unnecessarily, as in, “Joe’s green, but they decided to hotshot the belt onto him.”
indies (n.) — The modern term for independent, usually small-scale, wrestling promotions without a national television presence. At this point it functionally means any promotion that isn’t WWE or TNA.
jabroney (also jabroni or jobroni or j’brone) (n.) — A derogatory term for a worthless loser or a loser trying to look cooler than he is, first employed by the Iron Sheik and later popularized by the Rock, who described a jabroney as “a phony, goof, punk, or a ham-and-egger,” originating from an Italian slang term for “friend” or “dumbass” (in a friendly way). Due to its phonetic similarity, it’s also used as a synonym for jobber.
job (v.) — Broadly, to lose a match; specifically, to lose ignominiously as if overmatched while your opponent looks good. Career losers or nobodies sent out just to be punching bags for their opponents are called jobbers (also preliminary wrestlers, curtain jerkers, or ham-and-eggers, or occasionally “local talent,” for guys who are drafted from local minor leagues for one-night-only appearances); a midcard wrestler who is frequently fed to top-tier talent is sometimes called a jobber to the stars. The act of doing a job is to do the job or to job out.
juice (v.) — Can mean either steroids (“You can tell from his back acne that he’s juicing”) or to bleed (“Joe has been juicing to really sell that chair shot”).
kayfabe (n.; adj.) — The code of secrecy that undergirds the pro wrestling industry by which the secret of its unreality is protected. Keeping kayfabe is the act of staying in character before, during, and after shows so as to maintain the illusion. As an adjective, it separates real from fake, as in, “He’s not my real brother, he’s just my kayfabe brother.” The term comes from carnie slang (possibly a variation on Pig Latin) for “be fake” or “keep secret.”
Kendo stick (n.) — A traditional wooden training sword from Japan frequently employed as a weapon in wrestling matches. Referred to as a “Singapore cane” in the 1990s and early 2000s to capitalize on the infamous story of Michael P. Fay.
lights out (n.) — A moment in which the house lights go down to allow for a surprise appearance, turn of events, or other high jinks; usually occurs at the end of a match.
lucha libre (n.) — Literally “free fighting”; Mexican (or Mexican-style) wrestling, known for acrobatic moves, a more performative combat style that borders on the ridiculous, and cartoonish good-versus-evil storytelling.
mark (n.) — A wrestling fan not clued in to the sham of the enterprise. Borrowed from the carnival midway where American wrestling got its start, the mark was the dupe who fell for the “Guess Your Weight” scam or the ring toss. The opposite (in wrestling) is a smart — a person with intimate backstage knowledge of the wrestling world. The middle ground occupied by a hearty portion of modern wrestling fans is the smart mark, or smark — someone who’s in on the fact that wrestling isn’t on the level, but who doesn’t speak about wrestling from intimate knowledge or experience. “Mark” is used by wrestlers to refer to fans in general, and “smark” is often used as a term of derision for know-it-all fans by wrestlers, as in, “Goddamn Internet smarks don’t know shit from Shinola.” Marking out means reacting loudly as an audience member (“My son was marking out all night”) or, colloquially, to be excited (“I marked out for that pizza”).
manager (n.) — A non-wrestler who accompanies a wrestler to the ring and guides his career. (Other sorts of ring accompaniment include valets [for women] and bodyguards or enforcers.) While the show implies that the manager is in charge of the wrestler’s offscreen financial and business dealings, this is rarely the case, though some notable onscreen managers (Gary Hart, Paul Ellering, and Jim Cornette, for example) did actually function as real-life managers for wrestlers. Managers have traditionally been used as major heels in their territories, when the wrestlers themselves were itinerant and thus just tools for the managers’ greater purpose. They’re also commonly paired with wrestlers who have limited mic skills, in which case a manager functions as his ward’s mouthpiece.
married (n.) — To be paired with another wrestler as an opponent in a lengthy program, as in, “Joe and the Russian were married for the whole European tour.”
New York (n.) — Shorthand for the WWF (now WWE), held over from the territorial days, when the different promotions were identified by their respective geographical bases. A wrestler signing a contract with Vince McMahon would be said to be “going to New York.”
over (adj.) — Popular with the fans. Getting over is the act of becoming popular or making fans care. Related: going over, which is the act of winning a match; and putting over, which usually refers to a wrestler making his opponent look good in the ring (“the Russian put Joe over”) or a company deciding to make someone a star. In backstage lingo, “put over” has a variety of interrelated uses, but it usually refers to paying someone a compliment, as in, “I put you over to the boss,” or sometimes in the negative as a synonymous phrase for “Don’t get a big head,” as in, “I’m not putting you over, but that match was great.” A popular traveling joke among wrestlers is when one asks the other to check his blind spot by asking, “Can I get over?” to which the other replies, “Depends on who you’re working with.”
paper (v.) — To hand out free tickets to fill a poor-selling house.
Parts Unknown (n.) — The land of origin attributed to many monstrous or otherworldly wrestlers in order to give them an added air of ominousness. It’s one step removed from the mythically vague lands of origin like “deepest, darkest Africa” and “the other side of the tracks.”
Pillmanize (v.)— To break your opponent’s ankle or arm by placing it between the seat and headrest of a steel chair and jumping or stomping on it, named for an attack by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on Brian Pillman.
playing Ricky Morton (n.) — A staple of tag team match choreography wherein one member of the babyface team is beaten up for a long period, unable to reach his partner, rendering the match seemingly hopeless. When he finally makes it to his corner and tags in his fresh partner (in what is known as a hot tag), said partner subsequently enters and takes out the heels — or, in the parlance, cleans house. (Also known as face in peril.)
policeman (n., archaic) — An in-ring enforcer tasked with beating a stray or ornery wrestler determined not to lose; or, a wrestler who keeps order (often at the behest of the owner or promoter) in the locker room by threat of physical force. Sometimes also called an enforcer.
pop (n.) — A big cheer or otherwise desired response from a crowd. The term can be used vaguely, as in, “That match really popped the crowd,” or specifically as in, “That move got a big pop.” In the specific, pops are mostly reserved for babyfaces. A cheap pop correlates to cheap heat; it’s getting a cheer by going for the lowest common denominator, as in, “It’s great to be here in the fine city of Cleveland, Ohio!”
popcorn match (n.) — Originally the term for a post-intermission match that’s unimportant enough that fans still buying concessions won’t miss anything significant, now it refers more broadly to any lighthearted match that serves to break up the monotony in a card.
potato (n.) — An intentional or accidental real shot to the head (with fists or otherwise) during a match.
powder (v.) — To roll out of the ring after taking a bump. Traditionally the act was used for a wrestler to (legitimately) catch his breath or for a heel (in character) to beg off and regroup. It’s frequently seen in multi-wrestler matches, in which a wrestler powders out in order to allow two wrestlers to have a conventional one-on-one sequence in the ring. A wrestler will either be said to take a powder or to powder out.
program (n.) — Roughly a synonym for feud, story line, or long-term angle. A wrestler involved in one is said to be working a program.
promo (n.) — A monologue or interview given by a wrestler. These are largely conducted in a manner that follows technology; in the earliest days, wrestlers could only “speak” to their audience through the newspapers; in the Territorial Era, announcers conducted interviews in the ring before or after matches; once television took over, the interviews were usually conducted backstage or otherwise remotely. A wrestler’s skill in promos is often discussed as mic work; a good promo artist is referred to as a good talker, or as being “good on the stick.”
puroresu (n.) — From the English “pro wrestling”; Japanese professional wrestling. The subgenre of “strong style” wrestling is popularly known for its martial arts–based stiff strikes and shoot submission holds. “King’s Road” wrestling, on the other hand, is more American in style, emphasizing storytelling and brawling.
push (n.) — A promotion for a wrestler up to or toward the top of the card. As in, “Joe’s getting a main event push.”
purse (n.) — A wrestler’s take-home pay for a match, mostly archaic but frequently referenced by WWF announcer Gorilla Monsoon; as in boxing, the winner’s purse was presumed to be bigger than the loser’s purse, though of course in pro wrestling this was all a fabrication for the sake of added drama. In the modern era, something resembling the purse has appeared in the form of contractual bonuses giver to wrestlers for main eventing big shows or appearing on them at all, though this is (as yet) undiscussed on the air.
rasslin’ (n.)– The idiomatic term for the sport, used derisively by non-fans and ironically by insiders. Commonly it refers to old-school Southern wrestling (for obvious reasons).
receipt (n.) — A legitimate hit or assault done in return for a previous (perceived) stiff punch, move, or hold.
ref bump (n.) — A bump that occurs when the referee is knocked out for the furtherance of the plot, often so that a heel can use underhanded tactics or a run-in can occur.
rest hold (n.) — A simple submission-style hold, like a headlock or an armbar, that gives wrestlers a chance to get their wind between more athletic portions of the match. It’s also a means of establishing the narrative arc of a match by dictating tempo.
rib (n.)— A prank between wrestlers, usually in the locker room, that predominately rises from a boys’ club culture, life on the road, and a lot of time to kill.
ring psychology (n.) — The narrative aspect of a match, wherein motivations are established and portrayed and broader storytelling notions are put across. Sometimes used in kayfabe to mean an in-ring attack plan by a wrestler.
ring rat (n.) — A female wrestling fan who seeking sexual congress with wrestlers, presumably to achieve prestige.
ring rust (n.) — A state of rustiness or being out of shape from time away from wrestling, i.e., for rehab.
rub (n.) — A measure of positive endorsement given from one (usually established) wrestler to another (up-and-coming) wrestler (or, more precisely, from a promoter to a wrestler via another wrestler).
run-in (n.) — When a wrestler (or wrestlers) interfere in a match, often resulting in a disqualification and/or schmozz.
schmozz (n.) — A match that ends in chaos rather than in a decisive finish, usually due to a number of wrestlers not involved in the match running in and preventing a clean finish. Roland Barthes described the art thusly: “Some fights, among the most successful kind, are crowned by a final charivari, a sort of unrestrained fantasia where the rules, the laws of the genre, the referee’s censuring and the limits of the ring are abolished, swept away by a triumphant disorder which overflows into the hall and carries off pell-mell wrestlers, seconds, referee and spectators.” Due to the lack of satisfaction or payoff inherent in the finish, the term is usually used today in a negative sense. Sometimes it’s used as an impartial term for a multi-party brawl. Backstage, the term can refer to any unsatisfactory ending or event, as in, “That date was a schmozz.”
sell (n.) — To respond to an opponent’s attack as if it hurt; to pantomime pain or agony. As most wrestling moves/holds aren’t designed to actually hurt, reacting convincingly is a central part of the enterprise, and selling well is a sign of respect. As in, “Joe sure did sell the Russian’s bear hug tonight.” To purposefully refuse to acknowledge the attacks of your opponent is known as no-selling. Selling can also be used colloquially to mean reacting (usually deliberately) to jokes or ribs (“I had to sell or else he’d just keep ribbing me till I did”) or the inverse (“You always no-sell my jokes”) or to mean in general to uphold kayfabe (“The Russian always sells when he’s out in public”).
Shakespeare (v., archaic) — To pantomime the use of a foreign object.
shine (n.) — To look good in a match. The term is often used as a narrative section of a match, wherein the babyface “gets his shine” early on before he’s beaten back by the heel. (See also: cutoff; hope spot; boom boom boom; double down; and finish.)
shoot (n.; v.) — An instance of reality in wrestling — be it in a shoot fight or in a shoot interview — the term comes from the old term shooter (see below). “Shoot” can be used both in terms of the wrestling product (“The Russian was shootin’ on Joe out there. It got ugly”) and in casual conversation as a substitute for “being honest” (“Is that really true? You shootin’ with me?”) and as a general synonym for “legit.” The opposite of a shoot (see entry) is a work. The worked shoot finds a wrestler using the pretense of reality — of going off-script — to deliver a planned speech.
shooter (n.) — A person who was a legitimately dangerous combatant, as opposed to one skilled only at play-fighting. In the old days, when most pro wrestlers had amateur wrestling backgrounds, the term was used more sparingly, for the men who, were it a real fight, would never lose. Two semi-synonyms are stretcher, someone who dominates his opponent through legitimate and painful holds (stretching), and hooker, someone trained in the art of hooking, or old-fashioned, sometimes illicit hold-based wrestling. It was a common occurrence for old-timers teaching newcomers to stretch/hook their students to try to scare them out of the business and to leave them convinced that pro wrestling was real.
showing ass (n.) — As a heel, looking bad in order to make the babyface look good, usually by exhibiting fear or cowardice or by being embarrassed. Examples include begging off/leaving the ring, complaining to the referee, or, of course, literally being depantsed during a match.
skinning the cat (v.)— When a wrestler is tossed out of the ring over the top rope but he manages to grab the rope and acrobatically pull himself back in.
smarten up (v.) — To reveal wrestling to someone, either as revealing the fakery of the enterprise to an unknowing fan or revealing its trade secrets to a young wrestler.
snug (adj.) — A corollary to stiff, working snug is to apply real pressure on holds. It’s used variously to make matches realistic, to exert supremacy, or to exact revenge.
Space Mountain (n.) — A euphemism for the act of sex, as described by “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair (or, alternately, Flair’s supposedly legendary penis), as in, “You want to take a ride on Space Mountain, honey?” or, in his dotage, “Space Mountain may be the oldest ride in the park, but it has the longest line.”
spot (n.) — Any move during a match, or a sequence of moves that make up an identifiable whole; the term is frequently used as a point of reference both in match planning (“Let’s do a top-rope spot”) and in review (“Did you see the top-rope spot in that match?”). A high spot is a move off the top rope or otherwise of significant elevation or grandeur. A hope spot is a teased comeback during a period of the match when the face is getting battered. A blown spot is a misexecuted move. The term is also used to connote a wrestler’s position on the card, as in, “Joe has the top spot,” or, “The Russian left town, so you’re getting his spot.”
squash (n.) — A short, inconsequential match used to showcase one wrestler. The loser of such matches, especially in the old days, was often a jobber. If a wrestler goes from a significant role to being squashed, he could be getting buried.
steel chair (n.) — A metal folding chair; the weapon of choice in the pro wrestling world. A hit from a steel chair is a chair shot.
stiff (adj.) — Using actual force in a wrestling match rather than the standard, more pantomimed technique; as in “a stiff punch.” To work stiff is to perform a whole match in that style, either in complicity with your opponent or not.
sugar hold (n.) — A move supposedly popularized by Stu Hart, in which a wrestler puts a prone opponent in a full nelson and then drives his knees into his back. It’s a legitimately grueling hold used frequently to toughen up students (or ward off prospective students); the term is sometimes used more vaguely for any legitimately painful move.
suplay or “suplex” (n.) — A move in which one wrestler grabs another in a front headlock, lifts him into the air, and drops him onto his back — as pronounced by legendary announcer Gordon Solie. Other famous Solie phrases that outlived him include Pier 6 brawl, “They’re going at it hammer and tongs,” and, “His face is becoming a crimson mask.“
swerve (n.) — A shocking turn or surprise in a story line. Also used as a verb, as in, “We really swerved the fans tonight.” A Russo swerve is shocking but nonsensical, named after onetime WWF and WCW booker Vince Russo.
territory (n.) — A regional wrestling promotion. At the height of the National Wrestling Alliance — the cartel that ran American wrestling during that period — there were upward of 60 territories in the U.S., but fewer than 30 of any real renown.
transitional champion (n.) — A wrestler who holds a championship solely for the purpose of shifting the title from one champion to another.
turn (n.) — The act of switching between being a hero and a villain in a story line. In rare instances, a face and heel will both switch sides during the course of a match; this is known as a “double turn.” (See also: face turn; heel turn.)
tweener (n.) — A wrestler who occupies the middle ground between a heel and a babyface.
work (n.) — See shoot. Worker is a synonym for “wrestler.” Wrestlers are often called good workers or bad workers to rate their ring work. (Incidentally, this definition seems to stem not from the wrestling-specific definition of “work” as a put-on, but rather from the traditional definition of work.)
workrate (n.) — A term for in-ring wrestling quality, used primarily by wrestling journalists to rate the physical and psychological performance of a match. The field of wrestling critique is often associated with journalist Dave Meltzer, who rates matches on a star scale; great matches throughout history are often referred to as “five-star matches” in reference to Meltzer’s rubric.
zabada (n.) — A catch-all term for an arbitrary tool used to fill in a hole in an angle, usually used when the tool is still undefined, as in, “He’ll come out, cut a promo, run-in, zabada, then the finish.”
I’m indebted to a litany of fellow fans, writers, and industry insiders, who will remain anonymous out of respect for kayfabe, as well as a number of existing online glossaries and wrestling histories, including the Wrestling Museum, PWTorch.com, Marcus Griffin’s Fall Guys, Joe Jares’s Whatever Happened to Gorgeous George?, and Jackie Pallo’s You Grunt I’ll Groan.
Illustration by Joel Holland