Variety, an entertainment newspaper founded in 1905 by Sime Silverman, is sometimes known as the Bible of those who worship in the Temples of Dionysos, Orpheus, and Terpsichore. It covers movies, television, theatre (which it calls legit), and other show-biz activities in both daily and weekly editions. It’s where you’ll find how much the distinguished actress Miley Cyrus was paid for her most recent movie and whether Phantom of the Opera is likely to run for another decade or two. Variety reports these juicy items in a jargon all its own, sometimes known as slanguage, that might sometimes leave inexperienced readers baffled.
Some words coined by Variety have entered the mainstream vocabulary: the aforementioned show-biz, for example, as well as sitcom for situation comedy, emcee and deejay (from the initial letters of master of ceremonies and disk jockey), and nitery for night club, striptease, and payola. Others are pretty much confined to the entertainment trade, such as the adjectives boffo, socko, and whammo, all descriptive of movies or plays that have strong ticket sales and therefore have legs—enabling them to “run” for a long time. Whammo, by the way, is considered much better than boffo or socko.
Press agents, who hope the shows they represent will all be whammo, work in a praisery, and if they throw a cocktail party to help with promo, it’s known as a pour. They hope their clients achieve heavy mitting from the auds, that is applause from the audiences, so that they will not have to resort to twofers (two tickets sold for the price of one).
Variety has its own shorthand for certain genres of entertainment. We all know what a whodunit is, you may have watched a TV dramedy, and crossword puzzle fanciers are bound to have encountered oater, which is a Western (horses eat oats). You can probably decipher meller, laffer, biopic, suspenser, tuner and chopsocky (martial arts film)—not to mention that most dreaded of all performances of any type—a yawner.
A female singer, to Variety, is a thrush, a warbler, or if the writer is feeling especially frisky, a chantoosie. Thrushes, of course, do not sing, they chirp, using their pipes to do so. Dancers hoof, and are hence known as hoofers, or sometimes terps, in a classically learned allusion to Terpsichore, the Greek Muse of dance. Actors, in a similar vein, are known as thesps. Writers are scribblers or scripters, songwriters are cleffers, and directors are helmers.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who would perhaps be known to Variety as an oder (hmmm), is an avid reader of entertainment news, as you can tell by this quatrain:
If you’ve had a satiety
Of the news in Variety.
Then you sure shouldn’t orter
Read The Hollywood Reporter.