Real Life Lessons Learned from Fake Fighting: Useful Wrestling Words for Creative and Everyday Life

author: Nick Dashing


As is the case with any hobby, the more seriously you take it and the more involved with it you become, the more unnecessary lingo and jargon you pick up along the way. Star Wars fans can name any one of a number of alien species that also happen to be Jedis (and many cringed at how I pluralize “Jedi”), while basketball fans can teach basic statistics when describing a double or triple-double.

Wrestling’s no different, except that unlike Star Wars and basketball no one really talks about it. So much so that in writing my last article, I felt the need to put in a bunch of parentheses for words that I use fairly casually. Wikipedia has a fine article on pro wrestling lingo, but most of the words defined there aren’t much use unless you’re really into the backstage politics of wrestling.

But pro wrestling is basically creative writing distilled into its purest form. You have a good guy and a bad guy, and they have a conflict. This conflict leads to a resolution of a storyline, in which typically the good guy prevails. The main difference is that there is already an inherent premise for each conflict, as wrestling takes the form of a sport in which people fight each other as a job. Given this, many of the terms used can be transferred to any creative project. Some of them have even crept into my everyday speaking patterns. I have referred to myself as a “mark” at several points, and it’s been surprising to me how easily people understand words they’ve never heard if used in the proper context.

Anyway, enough background. Here are some words that should be useful to you in enriching your vocabulary. Just don’t use them without having watched some wrestling, because then you’re just a poseur.

I just want to note as a point of record, that I could have titled this article “Top Ten MONDO COOL Wrestling Terms That YOU NEED IN YOUR LIFE!!!!” I chose not to, however, because I am not a charlatan. Also, there are six of them.


Mark: This word comes from wrestling’s origin as a carnival side show. Barkers would “mark” people they thought were gullible with a chalk stain on their backs, showing to other carnival barkers this person would be an easy “mark” for their deceptive practices. I’m not sure which of those uses made the term stick, but it basically refers to someone who is gullible and easily parted for their money. For example, when I bought a pair of $50 headphones at an airport kiosk, I felt that I had been a “mark” in doing so, because everything at the airport is expensive and I foolishly spent more money than they were worth.

“Mark” is also the word wrestlers use to refer to wrestling fans in general. It has adopted a more affectionate connotation over time but it is still used dismissively to insult rambunctious fans. Mark can be used similarly by fans to refer to themselves. You might be a “mark” for a particular wrestler. “Marking out” is a much more pleasant word to describe “fangasming.” Usually there’s an element of irrationality involved as well, a more emotional attachment in being a mark. Anthropologists would use the word “liminality,” but anthropology is junk science so I won’t say that.

Heel/Face: Derived from the old-fashioned words “shitheel” and “babyface.” Heels and faces are villains and heroes respectively, though there are some subtle differences. Faces can often be heroes for no other reason than because the crowd likes them more than their opponent. Heels are generally villains because they cheat. There may be next to no moral difference between the two. Some heels are real jerks, like Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and some are even mystical Satanic zombies who kidnap people, but generally the difference between a face and a heel is that the heel hates your local sports teams and cheats. As such, the heel/face divide is more porous than a normal villain/herol dynamic. Whereas a villain might become a hero through character development, wrestlers can rotate between the two without major character changes. They may just cheat less or talk about America more, and they may only play heel or face for one rivalry.

The main difference though is that in the fictional world of wrestling, a heel serves as a plot point for the face to overcome. Most wrestling storylines are the journey of a face, defeating a heel, to gain a prize. Due to the inherent combat element of wrestling, the face can’t simply overcome obstacles through nonviolent means. Whereas a face in a drama can overcome the adversity of an oppressive economic system, or an internal failure, in wrestling, the face must beat the shit out of the heel. Non-person entities, such as being poor, or insecurity, obviously cannot. A wrestling babyface cannot find a resolution to the conflict that is not inherently violent. So it goes.

Heel and face are obviously useful when discussing media. Heels can be jerks in a sitcom, or someone who is obviously placed in such a way that the face in a drama can become a better person and reach whatever his/her goal is. The words hero/face incorporate both the protagonist/antagonist nuance as well as the hero/villain one.

Tapping Out: In wrestling, the two most often endings to a match are when one person pins the other to the mat for a three count, or applies a grappling hold and makes the other submit. This second victory type is usually signified by a person striking the mat a number of times, and this is referred to as tapping out.

I use the phrase fairly liberally in referring to watching a movie or a show I dislike. I tapped out of Game of Thrones after realizing that the unnecessary rape scenes wouldn’t end. I tap out of sports games where my team is being slaughtered. I often tap out of Josh’s articles because he’s such a turbo nerd. If you actually made the effort to read that sentence Josh, please don’t fire me.

Comeback/Blow Off: Comeback is somewhat self-explanatory. TVTropes refers to it as a “hope spot,” but I won’t link there because I value your time. A comeback occurs when a face is fighting a losing battle against the heel. Then at some point in the middle of the match, the heel will make a mistake or do something to set off the face and stoke his fighting spirit. The face will then “hulk up”(named after Hulk Hogan) and overpower the heel. A blow off, consequently, is the final act of the feud that ends it in an emotionally satisfying way. It can be an extreme act of violence that renders the heel incapacitated, the face winning a title, or a particular sequence of moves that has some significant meaning in the context of the feud. Or many other things. But this is the moment in the feud that makes the feud worthwhile.

These might be more terms that have more use in talking about media than real life, often because real life is banal and stories are exciting. A comeback usually leads to the blow off. It is the rising action, leading to the face finally hitting the move that ends the feud. Blow off  is not completely synonymous with “climax” but the idea is very similar. “Blow offs” tend to be final, whereas climaxes usually lead into a denouement (the clarifying moment at the end of a story) and conclusion, which wrestling feuds very rarely have. Either way, it can be used to describe the emotional impact of a climactic event rather than the event itself. Both of them are purposeful words to describe the pacing of an event, and in wrestling’s case, a match.The lack of believable comeback and a blow off often leaves the audience feeling dissatisfied.

Pop/Heat: A pop is a positive reaction to an event. A wrestling crowd may pop when a babyface’s music hits (see: John Cena) and s/he comes down to confront the heel. They might pop when a wrestler hits an especially interesting move (see: The Canadian Destroyer). They might also pop when a retired wrestler returns to cut a promo (see: any returning wrestler besides Brian Christopher). Or, they might pop when a wrestler says that they love the crowd’s local sports team. This last one is usually referred to as a “cheap pop,” in which one uses pandering tactics to get the crowd to cheer for them...right here, on!

Heat is the opposite. Imagine taking “the heat” for something you do. This is that. Heat is attracting negative emotions from the audience, usually by cheating, being cowardly, or antagonizing the crowd or a babyface. Heels usually attempt to get heat in order to make the pop that the babyface gets bigger. Heat can also be had backstage. A wrestler who has a bad attitude or works stiff can have heat with the lockerroom. A heel can also get cheap heat by telling the crowd that their local sports team sucks, or by openly rooting for the Patriots. Finally, heat can also be used as a general word for “interest.” A feud could be hot, and this heat makes it so that the crowd is emotionally invested in the blow off match of the feud.

Pop is a very versatile word for both media and real life. Whenever someone makes a good joke, or makes a really salient point, I’ll tell them “huge pop.” In that way it is pretty similar to an real-life version of saying “lol,” especially for people like me who often don’t laugh outwardly. Heat is much of the same. Someone can have heat with me through insults or by being a Golden State fan. You can also, as a creative person, draw heat from your audience through schtick, as many insult comic attempt to do. Usually though, in order for heat to be effective, the person drawing it must receive some kind of comeuppance. This generates a pop for the babyface doing the comeuppance-ing.

Over: Probably one of the most morphologically complex words here, as it takes many forms. Over in wrestling parlance basically means “popular.” A wrestler is over when the crowd cheers or boos them, depending on their alignment. Heels are over when they have heat; faces are over when they can pop the crowd effortlessly. Being over generally follows from successfully playing one’s role. Wrestlers that are over tend to get put into higher profile matches and sell more merchandise. They typically “get over” by winning matches, cutting memorable promos, or having a strong character or gimmick. Moreover, wrestlers “put over” other wrestlers, generally by losing to them in a match. This is not necessarily the case, however, as a wrestler can look strong in defeat, and thus be put over that way. Putting over a younger talent is traditionally how older wrestlers end their final match.

Outside of wrestling, putting someone over is generally less of a zero-sum game. One can put someone over with a compliment. It is far more difficult to figure out when something is over when your creative medium isn’t in front of a large, live audience. Finding out what part of your creation is over and exploiting it, such as producing a spin-off based on a popular character, is one of the signs of a good creative mind.

Work/Shoot: “Work” is another carnie term. When you work someone, you deceive them into doing something you want. All creative projects are works. You intend to get the audience to believe in the story you’re telling them, and take them along for the ride, potentially with the goal of giving you money. “Work” can also just mean playing up a storyline or character outside of kayfabe. In the build-up to the Big Show’s match against the boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather, WWE brought in professionally renown fight doctors to work the audience into believing that this would be a real boxing match. Finally, you can work someone just by being a dick and tricking them into doing something.

“Shoot” is the opposite. A shoot interview in professional wrestling means one where the wrestler breaks kayfabe and talks about real life, usually how wrestlers behave backstage or how they performed certain moves in a match. A wrestler might (very rarely) shoot on someone in the ring as well, turning the performance into a legitimate fight. Wrestlers might, however, now that the audience is smarter to the business, claim that they are “shooting” in an attempt to work the audience into believing that what they’re saying is real.

In a culture that has increasingly grown to appreciate sincerity, work and shoot are very valuable terms in determining the truth value of reality. To quote a very insightful New York Times article, everything is wrestling. Marketing and performances of all kind are meant to work people. Presidential campaigns and sales techniques are works, and they use many of the same psychological tricks that wrestling promotions have used since their days as carnival attractions. How much of everything is a work? How much of it is people shooting straight and conveying what they really feel? At its most innocuous, working someone may lead to them believing a colorful lie that you present as a real story. At its most sinister, workers prey on people’s mental weakness and insecurities, using fear-mongering tactics to make them behave in irrational and destructive ways. As such, using such concepts as “work” and “shoot” give people tools that allow them to critically evaluate the ideas that they are being sold. In the post-truth society, these may be the most important wrestling terms you could learn.


The great post-modern classical philosopher Hulk Hogan once said: “Goodnight HULKAMANIACS and jabronie marks without a life that don't know it a work when you work a work and work yourself into a shoot,marks.” Now you are someone more capable of understanding what this seemingly random string of words means. When you are fully able to decipher these byzantine remarks, you will truly be a mark who doesn’t work himself into a shoot anymore.

I hope this list helped you on your quest to enlightenment, you filthy mark.