How To Play Bingo – An Introduction To Bingo Calls

Black bingo cage filled with colourful numbered balls

Whether you’re new to the game and are learning to play, or are just curious about the bingo calls that are used in the UK, it’s important to know the history behind the calls in the game. Here’s an introduction and the origins of some new and old bingo lingo.

The introduction of bingo calls

Some believe that calls have their roots in Cockney rhyming slang, while others believe they are based on call signs and other military phrases. If one were to look back at the lingo and jargon used throughout history, there’s probably truth to both of these ideas.

The question around when UK hosts began using calls seems to be lost to history. Some seem to think it started around 1930, while others believe they first became popular in the 1950s. The 1930s date is connected to the military-influenced calls in the game, which were first used in Housey Housey in the 1930s. The 1950s date is believed to be connected to the time when the game was brought into the country under its American name “bingo”.

Why are calls used?

When bingo first began to rise in popularity, it was played in busy halls packed with dozens of people. It’s hard to hear in any closed space with a large number of people, which makes it difficult to tell the difference between certain numbers when they are called by the host. To help players distinguish between the different numbers more easily, even in a crowd of noisy people, calls were introduced.

Another reason why calls were added to the experience is fairly easy to figure out: they add to the fun and excitement! Whether the call is humorous, rude, or is connected to the local culture, they add a little spice to a part of the game that would otherwise be fairly dull.

Classic calls and their meanings

Close up of bingo board with numbered wooden kegs

Here are some traditional bingo calls and their origins in the game. These may not be the calls that are currently in use, but they were used extensively at one point in the game’s history.

4 – Knock at the door

This is a rhyming call that may have its roots in the nursery rhyme “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe”.

8 – One fat lady

A visual pun where the shape of the figure eight was seen to match the shape of an overweight woman.

9 – Doctor’s orders

One of the traditional calls that has its roots in military history. This was a laxative that was given as a treatment to soldiers, and was believed to be number nine on a list of medicines.

11 – Legs eleven

Another visual pun where two ones side-by-side look like a pair of legs. In the past, this was sometimes accompanied by a wolf whistle, but more recently this has been frowned upon and even resulted in some players being kicked out of games.

17 – Dancing Queen

This comes from the lyrics and title of the hit Abba song by the same name. It is a rhyming pun.

22 – Ducks on a pond

The number 2 bears a resemblance to a duck, making this a visual pun about two ducks.

49 – PC

This was based on a popular radio show played by the BBC between 1947 and 1953 called “PC 49”. It followed the adventures of a police constable.

51 – The Highland Division

Another entry on our list that comes from the military. The 51st Highland Division was formed in 1908 and were on the front lines during World War 1 and World War 2. The division disbanded in 1968.

52 – The Lowland Division

The last entry on our list with military roots. The 52nd Territorial Army Division was formed in 1908 and fought in both the First and Second World War. This division also disbanded in 1968.

55 – All the fives, snakes alive

An expression of surprise, this term is a rhyming pun.

New calls for a new era

Young man holding bingo card giving thumbs up, while standing against a yellow background

As you can no doubt tell from the examples above, there are undoubtedly some calls that would simply make no sense to players today. In order to appeal to younger players, calls are updated to match the culture of the time. Here are some examples of calls that might be updated soon:

7 – Flexitarian

This is a rhyming pun that connects with younger players’ eating habits. More young people are adopting a predominantly vegetarian diet as awareness grows around the impact their diet has on their bodies and the environment.

9 – Get an Uber from mine

The “doctor’s orders” call will undoubtedly go over the head of most young people, but this rhyming pun recognises that most are familiar with the name of the transport company Uber.

15 – Yas Queen

A rhyming pun that is definitely more familiar to younger players than “young and keen”, the term “yas” broke into the mainstream after a Lady Gaga fan used it to exclaim his excitement when he met her in person. The term as a whole is reported to have come from the black vogue and drag scenes, and was most commonly used by black trans women. It is now a popular slang term in the LGBT+ community.

25 – Quarter life crisis

This is a cultural reference to the crisis that many young people, particularly men, seem to go through around the age of 25.

49 – Amazon Prime

This rhyming pun makes far more sense to anyone who doesn’t know that “PC” refers to the hit radio show “PC 49”.

54 – Lads on tour

A simple rhyming pun that connects to young men, or lads, going on a trip together.

83 – Gluten free

Yes, tea time is still something that many people associate with British culture, but there’s no doubt that it’s no longer the cultural pastime it used to be. On the other hand, more young people are likely to be aware of the risks of gluten consumption, hence the change to “gluten free” as a rhyming pun for this call.

88 – Wills and Kate

The original “two fat ladies” call is seen as potentially insulting these days, so younger players have opted for the far less offensive “Wills and Kate” rhyming pun. This term refers to Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Enjoy a game anywhere you go with Booty Bingo

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Even if many online bingo games don’t have calls, it’s great to be able to enjoy the deep history of the game at a live bingo site like a hall or club, or when you’re playing online.

But what’s even better is to be able to enjoy the game no matter where you are. Thankfully you can play from any location with an internet connection using the best online bingo service, Booty Bingo.

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