Each and every group of people have a natural tendency to use their own
“specialized manner of speaking which is peculiar”(1) to that
particular group. This creation of having special names and terms for
things, as well as having specific questions and phrases used within each
group creates a “shared body of knowledge for workers in the unit”(1).
It is a way to create speed in ordinary speech, as well as unite all people
together with their own language, and add humor to ordinary tasks. This
occurs oftentimes between coworkers. By “developing specialized
modes of communication...their jobs run more smoothly”(1). The point
of this fieldwork was to dig into the folk speech used at a movie theater.
Working at a Regal Cinemas movie theater for over 3 years has resulted
in my picking up several unique terms that movie theater workers use (see
Picture 1). It is my objective to discover where the terms come from and
why we use those particular words.
Folk Speech and Analysis
I set out to learn the origin of several terms, code names, and titles
we use at the movie theater by first of all interviewing the General Manager
of our movie theater, Nancy. I also took several pictures,
which are included in the last page of this paper. . . . The rest of the
research done within this area of occupational folk speech is based on
my own experience of three years of being in the environment in which
these code words and terms are used, and of using these terms myself.
I never questioned the origin of these terms and titles until this research
was begun. Then, I had to discern which words and titles we used that
non-theater workers would find unusual, since those terms had become part
of my everyday vocabulary, without my giving them a second thought. The
most interesting form of folk speech we have within our theater is the
title we give to various positions and aspects of our theater.
For example, one unique term we use is "the Door," with the
unique title of being the "Doorman" if one is stationed at the
Door. It is an extreme privilege to be the Doorman for the day, and oftentimes
we will fight over the position, since no one really wants to be in the
concession stand. Non-movie theater workers usually consider the Doorman
an usher. A Doorman is simply the person who takes peoples’ tickets,
directs the customers to the proper theater, and conveniently slips the
ticket stubs into the little slot in the stand in front of them. But to
us movie theater workers, that little stand in front of us is called the
Door. To be at the Door means you can get paid to stand around and direct
people to the proper theater. It means no customer can get to their theater
unless they pass through the Door. Being the Doorman is a position of
Why do we call it the Door? According to my boss it’s a unique aspect
of our theater, since all other theaters she knows of calls the position
"usher" and "working at the stand," not at the Door.
She told me,
Honestly, I have no idea when it was our theater began calling it Door.
I remember it being called Door before I got there, <Pause>
but we definitely called the people ushers, not doormen.
She has been working at our particular theater over 12 years, but she
cannot recall when the term originated or for what purpose. She only knows
that it stuck, and we only refer to it as Door, and being the Doorman.
In fact, she changed our training manuals to include those terms.
Why is it we capitalize this position? Nancy did not know the exact reason,
but she claims,
I think we started capitalizing it about <Long Pause>
maybe nine years ago. It was because we always said it like it was a threatening
thing, even though it was a position of honor. So to call it The Door
made it seem like more of a position that would be unwanted, instead of
fought over. But, obviously, capitalizing it didn’t work so well
Everybody wants to be on Door. <Pause>
Actually, I think it could have also been capitalized to make it more
like a title or a name,
rather than just a position you’d have just for the night.
The purpose of such a term? It certainly adds humor to our jobs. Saying
Door definitely does not add speed to our vocabulary, it’s more
of a term to add humor to our work day. And, it's a fun tradition to try
and be the one to win the coveted position of Doorman. Door is definitely
an aspect of folk speech that is quickly acclimated into even new employees’
vocabulary; within only hours of training, they are calling it Door and
the position Doorman as well. This tradition and aspect of folk speech
helps create a more personal and comfortable environment for us to be
in, where we can jokingly fight over the position of Door--this term we
have lovingly given to that little box that holds people’s tickets.
Another aspect of movie theater folk speech is what we employees call
the "booth." The booth is where all the projectors are contained,
located above the theaters, which shine the movie down below onto the
screen. The booth appears to be a long hallway on the second floor of
the theater. Most people call this area the projection room, but most
theater employees call it the booth. Nancy told me it is called the booth
since we go upstairs to the projection room, and from there we can overlook
the theater, just like John Wilkes Booth went upstairs onto the balcony
to assassinate President Lincoln. Disregarding the slight morbidity of
the origin of the term, the name “booth” is a lot easier to
say than “the projection room.” According to Elliot, groups
tend to come up with their own “phrases to create a sense of unity
among the group that adds an atmosphere of familiarity which others would
not understand, and would therefore feel slightly excluded” (2).
In such a way, we at the movie theater talk about the booth without customers
understanding what we are talking about, and we therefore feel a stronger
connection with each other because of the common knowledge of terms such
as booth. Because booth is a term not unique to our theater alone, unlike
the Door, all theater employees can talk about the booth to anyone else
who works at a movie theater, regardless of which theater they work at.
At our particular theater, we always have three managers on duty–one
is overseeing the work of employees and taking care of customers’
concerns, one is in the office, and one is, as we like to call it “running
booth.” “Running booth” is when the manager threads
the film reel on the film rack and then begins the movie. (See Picture
Another aspect of folk speech within the movie theater would be the titles
given to each employee. In addition to the Doorman and “running
the booth,” there are many other positions an employee could have
throughout the night. These titles definitely add a hint of humor and
fun to the work day, as one never knows in what position they will be
placed for that day. Te terms also create a sense of unity since there
are certain positions that are held in higher respect than others, and
we will playfully try to claim such positions. The Doorman is the position
held in highest esteem, followed closely by Box. Whoever is “in
Box,” as we like to call it, is the person who sells the tickets.
We call it the Box because it is a shortened term for the Box Office,
but for some reason the person who works within the Box Office is not
called the ticket seller or anything of that nature, but rather the Box.
I asked "Nancy" about this as well. She replied,
Oh, I know where that term originated.
When I first started working here, we would always say to the employees,
‘Who wants to be in Box today?’
Of course, everyone who was stuck in the concession stand would volunteer.
Uh, I can’t remember who it was exactly, it may have been Adia <Pause>
Adia was the assistant manager, who started saying ‘who wants to
be the Boxman today?’
The phrase stuck, and before long, she started asking “Box?”
and everyone knew exactly what she meant.
I then asked her what other movie theaters usually call that position.
She thought about it a while before replying,
“Uh, I honestly don’t know. I know that all theaters call
the station where tickets are sold the Box Office,
so I would imagine that they would call that person something along the
lines of Box,
or Boxperson, or Ticket Seller or something like that.”
In this way, the oral tradition of saying “Who wants to be in Box
today?” was shortened to simply “Box?” to create a more
efficient way of asking the question and yet getting the same response
as by asking the entire question.
Finally, as it probably is with any occupation, movie theater employees
have their code phrases for certain items to speed up the process of relaying
information to other people. For example, a customer ordering popcorn
has several options to choose from; they can pick small, medium, large,
or extra large, as well as whether they want their popcorn buttered or
not, and with butter salt mixed in or without. Their three choices are
then relayed to the person we deem the runner, or nickname the “Popcorn
Master,” to keep things lively within the theater. This title, Popcorn
Master, is unique to our own theater, and helps keep things lively and
fun. While the customer may take a minute or two to decide how they want
their popcorn, the concessionist can relay the information the customer
makes to the Popcorn Master within a second or two, for example, “Large,
butter, with.” “Large, butter, with” is immediately
understood to be a large popcorn, buttered, with butter salt. It is much
easier, more concise, and much faster to give the order to the Popcorn
Master with three words. By using such a form of communication, we are
able to communicate more effectively and smoothly with our fellow coworkers,
and ensure our customers get their popcorn just as they ordered it in
a timely manner. Dorson claims that the purpose of shortening phrases
such as these is most common among “occupations requiring both speed
and accuracy . . . such as in restaurants, fast food places, hospital
clinics, and other locations where there are multiple means to provide
the same service” (3). Marcus claims that such code words or phrases
“provide[s] shared meaning, or a short-hand, for conveying complex
information in a simplified manner” (1). Thus, by using such code
words and phrases, we are making the work more efficient, and also, simultaneously
adding a hint of humor to the monotony of preparing hundreds of peoples’
orders of popcorn.
There are hundreds of other terms and phrases and codes we use amongst
ourselves at the movie theater, but my research focus was to determine
the origins of several of the titles we use as well as the benefits of
using shortened phrases, such those used during concession stand work.
Through this research, I learned how tradition has kept these codes and
titles alive, and how using folk speech can increase the accuracy and
speed of ordinary procedures to ensure our movie theater customers get
the best service possible.
Regal Cinemas exterio
(Film tray, without film reel)
1) Marcus, xx. Occupational Folklore. In The Emergence of Folklore
in Everyday Life. A Fieldguide and Sourcebook, edited by George Schoemaker.
Bloomington, Indiana: Trickster Press, 1990.
2) Oring, Elliot. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: A Reader.
Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press. 1989. 325-389.
3) Dorson, Richard Mercer. American Folklore. Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1959. 225-228.
"Nancy" is a pseudonym
for the general manager of the movie theater.