Bingo calls and sayings are a widespread occurrence, and they happen during every game. Yes, I’m talking about the unexpected nicknames of the numbers that may cause surprise in some of you. Still, almost all of them cause a smile, and here I’ll discuss at length where these phrases came from and how they became the staple of bingo calls.
The nicknames of the bingo numbers serve a double purpose – to entertain the players and help discern between similarly sounding numbers. For example, 32 and 52 can sound the same in a crowded bingo room, and people added nicknames to tell them apart. As bingo spread far and wide, the nicknames took on local, historical, and pop-culture references, and as they say, the rest is history.
Before we go into the specifics of the bingo calls, let’s discuss more the history of the bingo game and how a renaissance game transformed into a fan-favorite pastime over the years.
History of The Game
According to historians, the first bingo games originated in Italy somewhere in the 1530s. However, there are some findings that a similar numbers game was played in China. In Italy, the numbers game was known as Il Gioco del Lotto d’Italia, and it was a trendy event. The game spread to France, where it was called Le Lotto, widespread among the aristocracy, and from there, it spread to Germany, the UK, and the USA, under the name Beano.
Once the game reached US soil, it soon became a favorite game in carnivals and fairs. The term “bingo” was used as a cry of triumph, and people shouted it when they won the game, and the name stuck. A certain Erwin S. Lowe designed and patented the modern bingo card in 1942, and the name was transformed into Bingo which we now use today.
After WWII ended, modern bingo saw a resurgence in the UK. Since bingo was played in aristocratic salons in the UK for ages, things picked up speed with the intro of the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960. Mecca Bingo was the first official UK company that introduced bingo in dancehalls, bringing a new age in British entertainment for the masses.
You can note that throughout bingo’s evolution and history, the game underwent many changes and challenges. Due to its popularity among the army, some bingo sayings originate from military terms, which I’ll discuss below.
How Many Numbers Are in Bingo
There are several versions of bingo played in the world. The British version of bingo that has become popular and widespread across the UK is the 90-ball bingo. The bingo ticket has 27 spaces in three rows of nine columns. The rows have five numbers and four blank spaces, and the columns have up to three numbers. The numbers are arranged in the nine columns in the following order:
- First column – numbers from 1 to 9
- Second column – numbers from 10 to 19
- Third column – numbers from 20 to 29
- Fourth column – numbers from 30 to 39
- Fifth column – numbers from 40 to 49
- Sixth column – numbers from 50 to 59
- Seventh column – numbers from 60 to 69
- Eighth column – numbers from 70 to 79
- Ninth column – numbers from 80 to 90
The complete set is a strip of six tickets, each with 15 numbers, from 1 to 90. When a player buys an entire strip of six tickets, the player can circle a number any time the number is called.
Modern Bingo Game Rules
In a bingo hall or live online bingo game, the British bingo game is usually presided by a bingo caller who calls the numbers and validates the winning tickets. Before implementing modern technology, the bingo numbers were printed on balls drawn from a bag (or a mechanical machine). Thus, some terminology remained, and even though a Random Number Generator now generates numbers, the term bingo balls still live on.
Before the game starts, the bingo caller announces the start with a yell of “Eyes Down,” meaning the players should focus on their tickets. The bingo callers stick to the “bingo lingo” as they announce the numbers and make jokes about the traditional and modern bingo names.
Winning a Bingo Game
There are several winning combinations in UK bingo:
- Four Corners – crossing the left and right corners of the ticket on the top and bottom lines
- Line – covering a horizontal line of five numbers on a ticket
- Two Lines – covering two lines on a ticket
- Full House – covering all fifteen numbers on a ticket
Complete List of Traditional Bingo Calls
Most bingo calls are funny, and bingo names were derived from popular culture and historical references. The players caught on and accepted the nicknames, as they added another fun layer to the game. Plus, the nicknames serve as distinct tells, as there is no way to mistake one number with another.
Throughout the years, the nicknames changed, and new bingo calls were added until a somewhat unified list of bingo calls was adopted across the UK bingo halls. Without further ado, here is a complete list of the bingo calls in use now.
- Kelly’s Eye – a military slang or a reference of an Australian folk hero, Ned Kelly
- One Little Duck – 2 looks like a small duck, hence the nickname
- Cup of Tea – three rhymes with tea, and Brits love their cup of tea
- Knock at the Door – four, knock at the door, another rhyme
- Man Alive – five rhymes with alive
- Tom Mix/Half a dozen – a reference to a US Western movie star Tom Mix that rhymes with six; a half of a dozen is six
- Lucky Seven – seven is considered a lucky number in many cultures, including bingo, obviously
- Garden Gate – gate rhymes with eight, but there is a legend of a garden gate being a coded message
- Doctor’s Orders – a reference to the Number 9 laxative pill given to soldiers during WWII
- Boris’s Den – a reference of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence (the nickname changes with every new prime minister)
- Legs 11 – 11 looks like a pair of slender legs, preferably a woman with heels
- One Dozen – one dozen is 12
- Unlucky for Some – 13 is considered an unlucky number, but only for some, as the bingo saying suggests
- Valentine’s Day – a reference to February the 14th, the day of love and romance
- Young and Keen – fifteen rhymes with keen
- Sweet 16 – a reference to the Sweet 16, when a person transforms into an adult
- Dancing Queen – refers to ABBA’s Dancing Queen, “…young and sweet, only seventeen.”
- Coming of Age – the age where one legally becomes an adult
- Goodbye Teens – the last teenage year
- One Score/Getting Plenty – 20 units in a score/getting plenty rhymes with twenty
- Royal Salute – a reference to the royal salute of 21 guns
- Two Little Ducks – 22 looks like two little ducks next to each other
- The Lord is my Shepherd – a reference to the first verse of Psalm 23 of the Old Testament
- Two Dozen – 12 is one dozen, 24 is two dozen
- Duck and Dive – 2 is a duck, five rhymes with dive
- A to Z/Half a Crown – the alphabet has 26 letters; two shillings and sixpence (26) made a half a crown
- Gateway to Heaven – a reference to calling a win on the number 27
- Over Weight/In a state – a reference to someone feeling in a state, feeling poorly, being overweight
- Rise and Shine – Rise and Shine rhymes with twenty-nine
- Dirty Gertie – a rhyme to a humorous soldier’s song from the 1920s “Dirty Gertie from Bizerte.”
- Get Up and Run – the phrase rhymes with the number thirty-one
- Buckle My Shoe – the phrase rhymes with the number thirty-two
- All the threes – 33 is all the threes in a 90-ball bingo
- Ask for More – the phrase rhymes with thirty-four
- Jump and Jive – a rhyme with the number thirty-five
- Three Dozen – 12 is one dozen, 36 is three dozen
- More than 11 – a phrase that rhymes with thirty-seven
- Christmas Cake – a phrase that rhymes with thirty-eight
- 39 Steps – a reference to the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie “The 39 Steps.”
- Naughty 40 – a reference to the phrase “life begins at 40!”
- Time for Fun – a phrase that rhymes with forty-one
- Winnie the Pooh – a reference to the beloved storybook about a honey-loving bear
- Down on Your Knees – a reference to a phrase used by the British soldiers
- Droopy Drawers – a reference to sagging trousers
- Halfway There – in a game of 90-ball bingo, 45 is the halfway there
- Up to Tricks – a phrase that rhymes with forty-six
- Four and Seven – simply, a reference to the number forty-seven
- Four Dozen – 12 is one dozen, 48 is four dozen
- PC – a reference to an old TV programme “The Adventures of P.C. 49.”
- Half a Century – a reference to 50 years, or half a century
- Tweak of the Thumb – a phrase that rhymes with the number fifty-one
- Danny La Rue – a reference to the Irish cross-dressing singer Danny La Rue
- Stuck in the Tree/Here comes Herbie – a phrase that rhymes with fifty-three; 53 is the number of the VW Beetle Herbie from the Walt Disney films
- Clean the Floor – a phrase that rhymes with fifty-four
- Snakes Alive – a nod to the fives that look like coiled snakes
- Was She Worth It? – a reference to the cost of a marriage license in the 1959s, that was five shillings and sixpence, the audience usually responds with “every penny!”
- Heinz Varieties – a reference to the 57 varieties of canned products by Heinz, the number 57 is on the label of the Heinz products
- Make Them Wait – the phrase rhymes with the number fifty-eight
- Brighton Line – the time to travel from Brighton to London via train is 59 minutes
- Five Dozen/Grandma’s getting frisky – 12 is one dozen, 60 is five dozen; the traditional age when women retired in the UK
- Bakers Bun – the phrase rhymes with sixty-one
- Turn the Screw – the phrase rhymes with sixty-two
- Tickle Me – the phrase rhymes with sixty-three
- Red Raw – a phrase that poorly rhymes with sixty-four
- Old Age Pension – the traditional age when men retired in the UK
- Clickety Click – a phrase referencing the sound of a train steaming down the tracks, also rhymes with sixty-six
- Stairway to Heaven – a phrase that rhymes with sixty-seven
- Saving Grace – a phrase that rhymes with sixty-eight
- Either Way Up – a reference to how 69 looks the same either way
- Three Score and 10 – a math reference of the sum of three scores and ten (3×20+10=70)
- Bang on the Drum – a phrase rhyming with the number seventy-one
- Six Dozen – 12 is one dozen, 72 is six dozen
- Queen Bee – a reference to the Queen Bee, a phrase that rhymes with seventy-three
- Candy Store/Hit the Floor – both phrases rhyme with seventy-four
- Strive and Strive – a reference striving for a full house
- Trombones – a reference to the “76 Trombones” song from the musical The Music Man
- Sunset Strip – a reference to the TV show “77, Sunset Strip.”
- Heaven’s Gate – a phrase that rhymes with seventy-eight
- One More Time – a phrase that rhymes with seventy-nine
- Eight and Blank/Gandhi’s Breakfast – eight and zero; a play on words referencing Gandhi’s breakfast – he “eight nothing.”
- Stop and Run – a phrase that rhymes with eighty-one
- Straight On Through – a phrase that rhymes with eighty-two
- Time for Tea – a nod to the British’s love for tea, plus the phrase rhymes with eighty-three
- Seven Dozen – 21 is one dozen, 84 is seven dozen
- Staying Alive – a phrase that rhymes with eighty-five
- Between the Sticks – a reference of the number 86, the goalkeeper spends the game between the sticks, plus the phrase rhymes with the number eighty-six
- Torquay in Devon/Grandma’s Gone to Heaven – a reference to a town in Devon, the phrase rhymes with the number eighty-seven, reference to grandma passing away
- Two Fat Ladies – the two-eighths look like fat ladies next to each other
- Nearly There – the second-to-last bingo number, nearly to the end
- Top of the Shop/End of the Line/As far As We Go – a reference to the highest or last number in bingo
Bingo Calls Based on Rhymes
From the list above, you’ve probably noted that the majority of the bingo calls and sayings are rhymes that rhyme with each respective number. It is a clever play on words, and I need to note here that these change regionally.
It was not rare for each bingo hall and bingo caller to have specific bingo names to refer to a local staple. Most of these are tweaks of a similar phrase, and they usually stay in line by rhyming with the respective number. Here are some of these:
- 8 – Garden Gate – This refers to the term “Garden Gate” that was a possible meeting place for gangs and smugglers and later became a code-name for secret meetings.
- 17 – Dancing Queen – the 1976 hit by ABBA that mentioned the number seventeen and incidentally rhymed with it: “You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only 17.”
- 51 – Tweak of the Thumb – the phrase obviously rhymes with the number fifty-one. However, another phrase that rhymes with 51 is used in some regions – I love My Mum.
- 59 – Brighton Line – a rhyme for the number 59, but it also references the minutes it takes the Brighton Lane train to travel from Brighton to London.
Funny Bingo Calls
As bingo is first and foremost an entertainment, the bingo callers have included many funny bingo calls that inspire smiles with the players. Here are some examples of funny bingo calls:
- Number 10 in bingo is nicknamed [Prime Minister]’s Den, or in this case, Boris’s Den. It references the address 10 Downing Street, the UK Prime Minister’s residence.
- “Was She Worth It” is a bingo call for the number 56. It references the cost of the marriage license in 1950, which was five shillings and sixpence. To add to the excitement, players, primarily women, yelled “Every Penny” when the bingo host shouted this call.
- Trombones are the bingo call for the number 76, and while not evident at first, this bingo call references a musical and movie from the 1970s, “The Music Man.” A phrase in the lyrics says: “Seventy-six trombones led the big parade,” thus the reference to number seventy-six.
Rude Bingo Calls
Not all bingo calls rhyme or is funny at first, as some are a bit rude. While they are not offensive, some may find that they don’t like rude phrases. Here are some of the bingo number names that can be considered rude:
- The nickname for number 27 is Gateway to Heaven, and while this can be a relatively innocent, rhyming phrase, dirty minds go elsewhere. The phrase may refer to a naughty act altogether.
- Grandma’s Gone To Heaven is a bingo call for number 87, and it rhymes perfectly. Still, it is not precisely polite bingo saying, especially if someone’s grandma has passed away recently.
- Two Fat Ladies is the bingo saying for number 88, which admittedly looks like two fat ladies next to each other. But if there are overweight ladies among the players, it is not the most polite of references.
While these are not all, there are many rude bingo calls and even more dirty bingo calls used in particular bingo halls. For example, the bingo call for number 69 is Either Way Up, referring to the fact that 69 is the same when turned upside down. But dirty minds can take this bingo call to a much dirtier meaning.
Most Common Bingo Numbers
Bingo is a game of chance, and anyone can play it. There is no particular skill required for one to play bingo; instead, the game is intended to relax and entertain. However, the excitement of every new ball draw is enjoyable, and it is why it is one of the fastest-growing online games in the UK.
There are no most common bingo numbers, as the selection is random. While many will swear to have a bingo strategy, the best chance to win would be to get a strip of six tickets, having all the numbers to check off. As it is a game of chance, the numbers are drawn by a Random Number Generator, and there is no possible way to ensure that some numbers are drawn more often than others. Other types of bingo rely on patterns, which I’ll cover in a future article.
Here you have it, people, the bingo calls and sayings that one can hear shouted in bingo halls across the UK. These were put in place to entertain the players and put a positive vibe. As the bingo halls are slowly giving way to online bingo rooms, the more traditional bingo calls are being left out, and in their place, new, more contemporary bingo calls and nicknames are emerging.
The purpose of bingo is to promote a sense of community and put smiles on people’s faces. Whether playing online or in a traditional bingo hall, the goals are the same: having fun, joking, and laughing while creating new friendships and enjoying a popular pastime.