Arts, Culture & Media

The secretive language of professional wrestling

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A poster of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan mugging for the camera.

Tom Hodgkinson

In 1984, the professional wrestler “Dr. D" David Schultz smacked the TV journalist John Stoessel to the ground backstage at Madison Square Garden. 

Why? One word, "kayfabe."  

If you’ve never heard of the word kayfabe, don’t worry.  This week on The World in Words podcast we throw on some tights and get into the ring to explore a word you were never supposed to hear.

Podcast Contents

00:00 A warning for all those young children who love the magic and mystery of professional wrestling, this might not be the podcast for you.

00:46 In December 1984, pro wrestler “Dr. D” David Schultz slapped TV reporter John Stoessel to the ground during an interview backstage at Madison Square Garden.

01:30 John Cosper is a wrestling historian and co-author of “Dr. D’s” recently published memoir, "Don’t Call Me Fake: the real story of “Dr. D” David Schultz."

02:35 Vince McMahon, legendary promoter and CEO of WWF (now WWE), asked Schultz to “blast” John Stoessel.

03:44 Schultz thought that Stoessel accused him and professional wrestling of being fake.

05:08 There’s a word to describe Schultz’s behavior: kayfabe.

05:41 Nina mispronounces kayfabe.

06:04 Mick Greenwood, ex-wrestler and a current producer for Championship Wrestling in Arizona and Hollywood, defines the word kayfabe.

08:28 How far have wrestlers gone to maintain kayfabe?

10:08 As a wrestler, Mick Greenwood was a bad guy or a heel named Charismatic Chris McManus.

11:30 "Being too good of a bad guy meant you had to be nervous, people wanted to fight you," explains Mick Greenwood.

12:13 Meet retired wrestler Baron von Raschke.

13:16 The word kayfabe comes out of the carnival circuit; Raschke speaks a bit of “carney.”

14:00 Wrestling historian John Lister has a few theories about where the word's origins.

16:50 British English has its own wrestling terminology.

17:23 Hear Hulk Hogan’s theme song.

18:03 Meet Daniel Harnsberger, also known as the Progressive Liberal Daniel Richards, a heel in Appalachian Mountain Wrestling.

22:28 In 1997, Vince McMahon opened the TV show "Monday Night Raw" with a speech that forever changed professional wrestling.

24:21 McMahon coined the term “sports entertainment.”

27:31 There’s an argument that kayfabe lives on today in politics.

28:17 Not too long ago politics and wrestling literally crossed over

31:15 Did Trump break kayfabe?

32:00 Tweet at us @lingopod.

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities

In Arts, Culture & MediaCultureThe World in Words.

Tagged: Vince McMahonHulk HoganJohn Stoessel.