What is a cackle-bladder?

Is it the name of a person who urinates during a good chuckle? An alternative moniker for the whoopee cushion (a gag that was neither glee-inducing or comforting to the derriere)?


In The Big Con by David W. Maurer, a linguist who studied the argot of the underworld, the tactics employed by early twentieth century criminals are revealed.

The mark, the unwitting subject, is brought into the con by the roper, who along with the insideman (the true “confidence” man of this endeavor) and a cast of dozens, perform ”carefully rehearsed plays in which every member of the cast except the mark knows his part perfectly.”

The insideman is the star of the cast; while the minor participants are competent actors and can learn their lines perfectly, they must look to the insideman for their cues; he must be not only a fine actor, but a playwright extempore as well. And he must be able to retain the confidence of an intelligent man even after that man has been swindled at his hands.

One such swindle is called the Pay Off, in which the mark is introduced to a phony betting parlor (set up in a permanent store) complete with stacks of cash and convincing gamblers chewing on fat cigars. An elaborate and elongated performance by the roper, the insideman and the parlor’s customers serves to separate the unaware mark of a large sum of money. The final step in the con, called the blow off, ensures that the mark flees from the city. The mark thinks the insideman has saved him from prison or worse.

One type of blow off is the cackle bladder.

Towards the end of the Pay Off, the roper is blamed for the loss of the mark’s money on a horse race, and the insideman, “sharing” the rage and shock of the mark, attacks the roper:

[The mark] has a glimpse of [the insideman’s] white face, distored with rage, his eyes bulging. He catches the glint of a pistol in [the insideman’s] hand. . . The heavy report stops [the mark] in his tracks. . . [the roper] is on the floor, gasping. [The mark], appalled and fascinated, steps closer. A stream of blood spurts from [the roper]’s mouth, spattering [the mark’s] face and shirt. He feels it, warm and slippery, on him. The spectators close in.

The mark is rushed from the scene by the insideman – an upstanding fellow who only has the mark’s best interests at heart – and sent out of town on the next available train to avoid any involvement with the police.

The cackle bladder is “the small bladder filled with chicken blood which the roper conceals in his mouth.”

All quotes from

Maurer, David. The Big Con. New York: Random House, 1940.