Bingo Terminology: The History and Absurdity of Bingo Jargon

The earliest origins of bingo are thought to date back to 16th-century European lotteries, when they were used to raise money for the state. The game has come a long way since then, though, and today it’s often seen as a laidback way to enjoy yourself on a Friday or Saturday evening while chatting with friends.

One of the things that make the game so light-hearted and fun is the charm and humour of the bingo caller, as well as the terminology that they use.


The History of Bingo Terminology

Weird and Wonderful Bingo Terms

Summary: Bingo Terminology

The History of Bingo Terminology

The history of bingo is full of strange expressions, great stories, and misunderstandings. For instance, one of the most commonly recited origin stories suggests that the game began in US fairs and carnivals. It was known as “Beano”, as players would use beans to mark their cards.

Toymaker Edwin S. Lowe witnessed the game in action and decided to create his own version. Legend has it that he played the very first game with a group of friends and after one of them misheard the rules and shouted “Bingo!” instead of “Beano!”, the name stuck.

It’s a fun little origin story. There’s something about an iconic name being born from a mistake that captures the public’s imagination. In actual fact, the name was already in use throughout the United Kingdom at the time. It’s possible that the excited winner knew that and got the two terms confused, but it’s more likely that the story is just fanciful and didn’t actually happen.

After the Second World War, the game of Bingo exploded throughout the United Kingdom. It was the golden age of Bingo in the UK, and it’s also when many of the first bingo calls were created.

The exact origin of most of these calls has been lost to time, but the reason hasn’t. Bingo terminology was just a way to make the game more interesting. The goal of a bingo caller was to stand in front of a room full of people and read a bunch of numbers—not exactly the most exciting job. To inject some fun into proceedings, they would make up little names and stories, entertaining the crowd as well as themselves.

Weird and Wonderful Bingo Terms

Bingo terminology is a lot like Cockney rhyming slang. Sometimes, it’s relatively simple and you can join the dots in your head. “Cup of Tea”, for instance, is often used to mean 3, simply because it rhymes while “Lucky” refers to the number 7 because it’s often considered to be the luckiest number.

Others seem pretty simple but have a little more depth than you realise. For example, “Knock at the Door” means four, but not just because it rhymes. It actually comes from the nursery rhyme “One, Two, buckle my shoe; three, four, knock at the door.”

Incidentally, the same rhyme was adapted for the Nightmare on Elm Street films, so if you’re a horror movie fan, there’s a good chance that you now have the twisted and sadistic Freddy Kreuger in your head.

But at least he’s not knocking at your door.

Some of the terms, however, don’t seem to use rhyme or reason, and even after reading the explanations, there’s a good chance you’ll still be scratching your head.

For instance, number 9 is often announced with “Doctor’s orders” because “number 9” was the name of a laxative given by army doctors. “The Lord is My Shepherd” (23, a reference to Psalm 23) is also a call that goes over the head of many modern players as is “Half a Crown” (26, a reference to a pre-decimalised currency). To accommodate this, many bingo halls have swapped these dated expressions for more modern ones.

For instance, “Danny La Rue” (52) is often replaced which “Chicken Vindaloo” while “Jimmy Choo” (32) is used in place of “Buckle my Shoe”.

There have been a few claims of “political correctness gone mad” when it comes to bingo calls, including stories that “woke millennials” have forced changes to expressions like “Two Fat Ladies” (88). But the same stories usually insist that terms like “avocado on a plate” (38) and “recycle more” (74) are now being used, suggesting that it’s just media nonsense trying to touch upon every Millennial stereotype in order to get a few more clicks.

There have been a number of changes over the years, but it really all depends on the region, and some terms are too good (or bizarre) to go away:

* 16 = “Never been kissed”. A reference to the old song, Sweet Sixteen and Never Been Kissed. However, it’s a little dated, and so “Sweet Sixteen” is often used in its place.

* 22 = “Two little ducks”. The number 2 is often described as a duck as it looks like the bird in profile.

* 25 = “Duck and dive”. It’s said that the 2 is the duck and the 5—which looks like an upside-down 2—is the diving duck. It’s a smart one, but let’s be honest, it only exists because it rhymes with 25.

* 45 – “Halfway there”. 45 is half of 90 and 90-ball bingo is the most common variant played in the United Kingdom.

* 80 = “Gandhi’s breakfast” is occasionally used, suggesting that he “ate nothing” for breakfast. “Eight and blank” is more common, though.

* 81 = “Fat lady with a walking stick”. It seems that obese women are a popular target of bingo callers!

Summary: Bingo Terminology

Bingo callers like to do their own thing and they don’t all follow the same guidebook. The calls tend to be different from region to region and even caller to caller, and that’s one of the great things about bingo!

For instance, we’ve heard that the term “AK” (47) is used in some parts of the world while in others it’s common to refer to national celebrities. The variety of calls is one of the many things that makes this game so interesting! So, the next time you sit down for a game of bingo, listen to more than just the numbers and see if you can decipher the meaning behind those calls.