Slang dictionary


[ key-feyb ]

What does kayfabe mean?

In professional wrestling, the term kayfabe refers to the practice of maintaining the illusion that everything is real—including the scripted personas, rivalries, and storylines.

This often extends beyond the in-match performance to other contexts, such as backstage footage and interviews.

The term is especially used in the phrases keep kayfabe (meaning to maintain the illusion) and break kayfabe (meaning to break the illusion).

These phrases can be applied to a person (to say a wrestler broke kayfabe means they broke character—stopped acting in the manner of their persona) or to other entities, such as a wrestling company, as in The WWE doesn’t even try to keep kayfabe in wrestling documentaries. 

Kayfabe is also sometimes used as an adjective, as in His Twitter account is definitely not kayfabe. 

The term kayfabe is also sometimes used outside of professional wrestling in contexts that involve maintaining an illusion of reality. However, the term is still closely associated with professional wrestling.

Example: The wrestlers won’t even break kayfabe when there’s an injury during a match.

Related words

WWE, RKO, main character

Where does kayfabe come from?

two young male wrestling athletes gripping each other in wrestling holds, in a teal filter.

The term kayfabe has been used in the context of professional wrestling since at least the 1980s. The exact origin of the term is unknown. It is often theorized that it originated in carnival jargon as a disguised slang variation of the word fake or the phrase be fake.

The term spread in the world of professional wrestling during the 1980s, when it was growing in popularity. At the time, maintaining the illusion of personas and rivalries often extended even to public appearances, such as interviews.

During the 1990s, the emphasis on maintaining kayfabe seemed to lessen. For example, World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon broke kayfabe and compared professional wrestling to soap operas and sitcoms while discussing his own wrestling company during the 1990s.

The word kayfabe is now well-known among pro wrestling fans and has gained more mainstream use. In modern professional wrestling, wrestlers are much less likely to keep kayfabe in many contexts, especially when posting on social media.

Examples of kayfabe

Thank God the WWE Network didn't exist when I was a kid. The amount of content on there breaking kayfabe would have killed the illusion
@scully1888, December 12, 2015
DiBiase talks about protecting the kayfabe, the unwritten rule that the wrestlers should stay in character and maintain the illusion outside the ring. With Savage, that was never a problem; there was no differentiation, he was just Macho Man all the time.
Sam Borden, ESPN, May 20, 2020

Who uses kayfabe?

Kayfabe is usually used in the context of professional wrestling, but it’s also sometimes extended to other contexts.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of kayfabe like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of kayfabe that will help our users expand their word mastery.