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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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9 Things You Should Keep in Mind Around Someone Observing Ramadan
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To mark the ninth (and most holy) month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan. Often compared to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is all about restraint. For one month, Muslims observing Ramadan fast during the day and then feast at night.

By abstaining from food and water (as well as sex, smoking, fighting, etc.) during daylight, Muslims strive to practice discipline, instill gratitude for what they have, and draw closer to Allah. To be respectful and not annoy observers, here are nine things you should never say or do to someone observing Ramadan.

1. DON'T JOKE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS.

A traditional iftar meal.
A traditional iftar meal.
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Although it might be tempting to joke about Ramadan being a good excuse to lose weight, it is a time for spiritual reflection and is a serious matter. Observers undertake the challenge of fasting for religious and spiritual reasons rather than aesthetic ones. And, once the sun sets each night, many Muslims prepare a hearty iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) of dates, curries, rice dishes, and other delicious foods. The suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) is often fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and dishes that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. So the idea of a cleanse is pretty far from their minds.

2. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

An Indian Muslim student recites from the Quran in a classroom during the holy month of Ramadan.
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There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, but not all of them observe Ramadan the same way. Although most observant Muslims fast for Ramadan, don't assume that every Muslim you meet has the same methods, traditions, and attitudes towards fasting. For some, Ramadan is more about prayer, reading the Qur'an, and performing acts of charity than merely about forgoing food and drink. And for those who may be exempted from the daily fasting, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or those with various health conditions, they might not appreciate the reminder from nosey busy-bodies that they aren't participating in the traditional way.

3. SAY "RAMADAN MUBARAK" INSTEAD OF "HAPPY RAMADAN."

A sign which reads
A sign which reads "Ramadan Kareem" in Arabic is seen pictured in front of the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
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Rather than wishing someone a happy Ramadan, being more thoughtful with your choice of words can show that you understand and respect the sanctity of their holy month. Saying "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the traditional ways to impart warm wishes—they both convey the generosity and blessings associated with the month. The actual party comes after Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an up to three-day festival that involves plenty of food, time with family, and gifts.

4. DON'T BE A FOOD PUSHER.

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Even if the idea of not eating or drinking all day might be unfathomable to you, don't push food onto anyone observing Ramadan. While fasting all day for a month can cause mild fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness, don't try to convince participating Muslims to eat or drink something—they are fully aware of any side effects they may feel throughout the day. Instead, be respectful of their decision to fast and offer to lend a hand with something like chores, errands, or anything unrelated to food.

5. ACCEPT THAT WATER ISN'T ON THE MENU.

Dates and a glass of water.
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Muslims who observe Ramadan don't sip any liquids during daytime. No water, coffee, tea, or juice. Zilch. Going without water is even harder than going without food, so be aware of the struggle and accept it. It's all part of the sacrifice and self-discipline inherent in Ramadan.

6. RESPECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY.

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Some Muslims choose not to fast during Ramadan for medical or other personal reasons, and they may not appreciate being badgered with questions about why they may be eating or drinking rather than fasting. Children and the elderly generally don't fast all day, and people who are sick are exempt from fasting. Other conditions that preclude fasting during Ramadan are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menstruation (although, if possible, people generally make up the days later).

7. BE MINDFUL OF ENERGY LEVELS.

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Eschewing food and drink for hours at a time can cause lethargy, so be aware that Muslims observing Ramadan may be more tired than usual. Your Muslim friends and coworkers don't stop working for an entire month, but they may tweak their schedules to allow for more rest. They may also stay indoors more (to prevent overheating) and avoid unnecessary physical activity to conserve energy. So, don't be offended if they aren't down for a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. We can't all be elite athletes.

8. DON'T OBSESS OVER FOOD AND HUNGER.

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One of the worst things you can do to someone on a new diet is to obsess over all the cheeseburgers, pizza, and cupcakes they can't have. Similarly, most Muslims observing Ramadan don't want to have in-depth conversations about all the food and beverages they're avoiding. So, be mindful that you don't become the constant reminder of how many hours are left until sundown—just as you shouldn't joke about weight loss, you shouldn't call attention to any hunger pangs.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT YOUR OWN FOOD.

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Although it's nice to avoid talking about food in front of a fasting Muslim, don't be afraid to eat your own food as you normally would. Seeing other people eating and drinking isn't offensive—Muslims believe that Ramadan is all about sacrifice and self-discipline, and they're aware that not everyone participates. However, perhaps try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings or afternoon barbecues with your Muslim colleagues and friends. Any of those can surely wait until after Ramadan ends.

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