kay·​fabe ˈkā-ˌfāb How to pronounce kayfabe (audio)
: the tacit agreement between professional wrestlers and their fans to pretend that overtly staged wrestling events, stories, characters, etc., are genuine
There have been some wild storylines and matches throughout the history of wrestling and wrestlers will do almost anything not to break kayfabe.complex.com
… for at least 50 years "kayfabe" has referred to the unspoken contract between wrestlers and spectators: We'll present you something clearly fake under the insistence that it's real, and you will experience genuine emotion. Neither party acknowledges the bargain, or else the magic is ruined.Nick Rogers
Inside the wrestling world, breaking the dramatic fourth wall was forbidden. The wrestlers had a code for staying in character. They called it "kayfabe." All the contrived rivalries and storylines fell within kayfabe.David Giddens
broadly : tacit agreement to behave as if something is real, sincere, or genuine when it is not
There is more than a little kayfabe at play in this indignant back and forth about scheduling. A $600 billion, bipartisan package is not going to live or die because people couldn't resolve their differences about whether to hold a procedural vote on a Wednesday or the following Monday … Jim Newel
: the playacting involved in maintaining kayfabe
With pro wrestling, separating reality from kayfabe can always be difficult.Joseph Zucker

Examples of kayfabe in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web These days, where content is king, breaking kayfabe is just as honored a tradition as protecting it was during Slaughter’s prime years in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Alfred Konuwa, Forbes, 1 Mar. 2024 Punk name-dropped his wife (ex-WWE Divas champion AJ Lee) to a healthy pop, and alluded to his (kayfabe) issues with Seth Rollins. Alfred Konuwa, Forbes, 29 Nov. 2023 If not, all this CEO strutting may end up being as staged as the kayfabe of pro-wrestling. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 7 Aug. 2023 While villains in the squared circle, the two wrestlers’ real-life relationship (and the kayfabe of pro wrestling itself) was revealed when they were arrested for drug possession after police pulled over their car in New Jersey in 1987. Joseph Hudak, Rolling Stone, 7 June 2023 The Iron Sheik kept up the kayfabe act for decades, frequently and gratuitously tweeting insults at Hogan. David K. Li, NBC News, 7 June 2023 This case tested the entire edifice of cable news kayfabe. Daniel Novack, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 Apr. 2023 Like The Undertaker’s feud with his (kayfabe) younger brother Kane in 1998, Rey refused to put hands on his son. Alfred Konuwa, Forbes, 1 Apr. 2023 The game that Fox News has played over the past few years is to have one strategy on TV and another in court, not unlike the kayfabe in pro wrestling. Daniel Novack, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 Apr. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'kayfabe.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


of obscure origin

Note: Given that kayfabe may deliberately have been coined to be as opaque as possible, it is not surprising that the etymology of this word is obscure. The attempt to explain it as a permutation of "be fake"—by turning fake into Pig Latin akefay and then reshuffling the letters?—is not convincing. The initial kay could be a clipping of a Pig Latin word, but as the identity of the source word is unknown, this conjecture leads nowhere. Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, finds the earliest citation to be from an issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, yearbook for 1988, p. 81. The word is unquestionably older, however. Note that a letter to the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune (May 4, 1971, p. 51) concerning a fight between Dick the Bruiser and Angelo Poffo is signed "Mark Kayfabe," a name presumably made up from mark "the victim of a con" and kayfabe.

First Known Use

1988, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of kayfabe was in 1988

Dictionary Entries Near kayfabe

Cite this Entry

“Kayfabe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kayfabe. Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

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