P.T. Barnum

Yep, I’m back. Some of you may know that I tend to put in much overtime where I work and as a result, I end up with very little time to come check the boards.

I also returned with a question. I saw the biography of P.T. Barnum and was wondering, is he indeed the source for “rain check” and “ringmaster”?

“Age is mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” -Leroy “Satchel” Paige

“Rain check” is from baseball. (Barnum did his things inside, so he’d have no need of one.)

Originally, when a ballgame was rained out, those who had already entered the stadium would go to the ticket office to get a refund. This was slow and, more importantly from the teams point of view, easy to cheat (anyone in the neighborhood – and ballparks were always in some neighborhood – could come by, stand on line, and claim to have paid for a ticket).

One club owner came up with the idea of returning part of a ticket, so fans could use those if the game was rained out. He called it a “rain check” and the name has move to include anything handed out to make up for a missing item at a later date.

Don’t know about ringmaster, though I suspect it was a circus term well before Barnum.


This way to the egress… :wink:

This question has merit. Barnum’s “Greatest Show On Earth” opened in Brooklyn in 1871.
Compton’s gives the appearance of the word ringmaster at 1873.

Where else would one need a ringmaster or a word for one but at a circus? (Present company excepted, of course).


A boxing match? A wedding? A belfry?

And of course, the question wasn’t whether the term originated in the circus world, but whether or not it originated with Barnum’s circus, specifically.

Chaim Mattis Keller

“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective

Here’s the what the A&E movie had to say on the subject: Barnum had brought a pair of whales to his museum, they died just before their big debut. Barnum told his patrons that all the rain that day had contaminated the big creatures’ tank and gave the patrons checks which could be used to purchase museum tickets at a later date, thus “rain check”.

“Age is mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” -Leroy “Satchel” Paige

My friend David Shulman found the earliest “rain check.” See Paul Dickson’s BASEBALL DICTIONARY (1999)–I also contributed to the book.
The earliest “ring master” citation is on the Making of America database, from the SOUTHERN LITERARY MESSENGER, “Our Friend Barnum,” pg. 758:

Lastly, Barnum is a great man, in asmuch as he has more violently agitated the long ears, and brought forth the braying of the asinine bipeds more loudly, than any other ring-master who has ever caused this great and enlightened nation to jump at the crack of his whip.

–Barry Popik
Friendly, penniless etymologist, unfortunately spurned by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and the City of Chicago for solving “the Windy City”