Folk Speech at a Movie Theater:
The Door, The Box, The Booth, and More

2005-046 Jennifer Prentkiewicz

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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 honor.

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. <Long Pause>.
Actually, <Pause>
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>
eight <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 <Laughs>.
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 2).

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. <Long Pause>
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.

Picture 1:
Regal Cinemas exterio


Picture 2
The Booth
(Film tray, without film reel)


Works Cited

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.

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