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16 (Not-So-Scary) Clowning Terms, Unmasked

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Between Pennywise and Twisty, clowns have gotten a bad rap. Although we have every right to be afraid of them, you might be surprised to know that they haven't always been horror movie material. The art of clowning has a long and rich tradition and history, from Pygmy clowns in ancient Egypt to court jesters in medieval Europe to annoying French mimes. Here are 16 terms to help you get to know clowns beyond their evil grins.

1. PIERROT

A sentimental, white-faced clown, the pierrot is named for a 17th-century stock character in French pantomime. His costume is loose and white and includes a giant neck ruffle. The pierrot is considered in some circles to be top clown.

2. HARLEQUIN

Often paired with the pierrot, the harlequin is a clown of “mischievous intrigue,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). She is recognizable by her floppy hat, often with bells on it, and diamond-patterned tights. One famous harlequin (aside from DC Comics' puntastic Harley Quinn) is Pablo Picasso, who is said to have inserted himself into his paintings disguised as the court jester-like clown.

Like the pierrot, the harlequin is named after a stock character, this time from the Italian commedia dell'arte, a kind of improvised playacting that began in the 16th century. The name Harlicken might ultimately come from the Old French word for the leader of la maisnie Hellequin, a gang of demons who flew through the night on horseback.

3. JOEY

This slang term for a clown was coined by Pygmalion playwright George Bernard Shaw and is named for famed 18th-century English performer Joseph Grimaldi. Grimaldi's tragic life belied his comedic antics. Due to the “extraordinary physical demands” of clowning, Grimaldi suffered so from arthritis and “digestive ailments” that he was forced to retire at 45.

Later, Grimaldi’s son, who had also gotten into clowning, died at 30. J.S., as he was known, was an alcoholic who suffered from epileptic seizures. Some suspected he had either been poisoned or had died as a result of injuries from a fight. Not long after, Grimaldi’s wife passed away, and three years later, Grimaldi himself, by then an impoverished and depressed alcoholic, died at 58.

4. WHITE CLOWN

Joseph Grimaldi might have been the most famous of white or whiteface clowns. Perhaps coming from the tradition of the pierrot, the whiteface is the ringleader of the clown posse. His makeup comes in three variations: European, neat, and grotesque. The European style, which was Joseph Grimaldi's, seems to most resemble the pierrot’s—delicate and not too exaggerated. Neat is similar to European, only slightly more exaggerated, while the grotesque’s makeup style is highly exaggerated. Think Bozo and Ronald McDonald.

5. AUGUSTE

Playing second banana to the whiteface, the Auguste is wild, clumsy, and kind of innocent. The word Auguste is French in origin, but aside from that, where it comes from is unclear. One theory is that an opposite sense arose of the word august, which means majestic, stately, or revered. However, “evidence is lacking,” according to the OED.

6. CHARACTER CLOWN

The character clown is the lowest on the clown totem pole and can take on almost any persona. The earliest characters clowns were the Happy Hobo and the Sad Tramp. One of the most renowned of the tramp clowns was the German-born Otto Griebling, who performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

7. CARPET CLOWN

Originally a solo Auguste who performed between acts, the carpet clown now refers to any “fill in” clown. Why carpet? Apparently one of the carpet clown's original duties was to lay out the carpeting for bareback riders.

8., 9., AND 10. BUSINESS, GAGS, AND BITS

The term business describes the individual movements of a clown. Gags are short jokes clowns play on each other—if repeated, the joke becomes a running gag—while bits are made up of gags.

11. AND 12. ENTREES AND SIDE DISHES

The entree is made up of bits and gags, and may involve several clowns and a beginning, middle, and an end. A side dish is a shorter version of an entree.

13. BLOW-OFF

The blow-off is the end of a gag, bit, entree, or side dish. Popular blow-offs include a thrown bucket of confetti, the pants drop, and the clown exit.

14. CLOWN STOP

While props and rigging are changed, various clowns, including the carpet variety, keep the audience entertained by performing clown stops, which are brief gags and bits.

15. CLOWN WALK-AROUND

In a clown walk-around, all the clowns come out to promenade around the circus ring, occasionally stopping to perform tricks for the audience.

16. CLOWN ALLEY

What’s a group of clowns called? No, not a horror. A clown alley is a troupe of clowns who perform together regularly. There are a couple of theories for the origin of the term. One is that it’s named for the out of the way, alley-like place where clowns were exiled to put on their potentially messy makeup. Another is that it comes from the Franglish phrase, “Clowns, allez!” or "Clown, go!" which the circus director would shout when it was time to send in the clowns.

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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