Kayfabe

What is kayfabe?

Pretending something fake is real

In professional wrestling, kayfabe refers to fans', wrestlers', and management's unspoken agreement to pretend the "sport" is real. This allows fans to buy into pro wrestling's scripted storylines and matches with the same fervor as fans of real, unscripted sports.

What are the origins of kayfabe?

While there is no agreed-upon story of how kayfabe came to be called kayfabe, the term likely originated within the traveling carnival business, of which professional wrestling is an offshoot. Possible origins of the term kayfabe include:

  • That it is carnival worker slang for "protecting the business's secrets," and may have been derived from the Pig Latin form of the phrase "be fake" (ka-fay be).
  • That it originated from a trick in which carnival workers would call home collect and ask for "Kay Fabian." Using this name let the worker's family know the worker had made it to the next town, without having to accept the call and its charges.
  • That the term is a variation of the expression "keep cavey," which means "look out for." This phrase may have been used by U.S. wrestlers and promoters who had emigrated from Eastern Europe during the time surrounding World War I and World War II. The theory is, the immigrants' accents caused U.S. wrestling aficionados to mishear "keep cavey" as "kayfabe."

As with many things relating to professional wrestling, how many of these stories are themselves scripted kayfabe is unclear.

How does kayfabe work?

In theory, kayfabe allows pro wrestlers, management, and audiences to pretend that every event that takes place in professional wrestling, including matches, friendships, and rivalries, is genuine and unscripted. To maintain kayfabe, wrestlers must sell each match, making it look as if the moves they perform and take the brunt of are impactful and effective. They must also maintain character both inside and outside the ring - acting like a heel if they are supposed to be a villain and acting like a face if they are supposed to be a hero.

If wrestlers maintain kayfabe, audiences reward them by buying into the lie - transforming professional wrestling into a hybrid between an ongoing soap opera and a sports league. Believing that professional wrestling is "real" is generally harmless and fun, and it makes the "sport" much more exciting. So, audiences also tend to maintain kayfabe.

At times, wrestlers break kayfabe. In the Internet era, especially, maintaining the illusion that professional wrestling and its many storylines are real can be taxing. However, it is still rare for any wrestler or management to acknowledge that a match or storyline was scripted.

Where else is kayfabe used?

Ironically, the Internet era has also introduced the concept of kayfabe to audiences outside pro wrestling. Celebrities now often conduct fake social media feuds that they and their fans pretend are real, which are prime examples of kayfabe. Another example of maintaining kayfabe is comedian Stephen Colbert's 2010 appearance in front of the U.S. House of Representatives, in which Colbert spoke as the fictional version of himself that he created for The Colbert Report.

Example

"I can't tell whether the feud between JoJo Siwa and Bhad Bhabie is real or kayfabe."

Related Slang

Usage

Last Updated: April 14, 2021

Kayfabe definition

This page explains what the slang term "Kayfabe" means. The definition, example, and related terms listed above have been written and compiled by the Slangit team.

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