Tic Tac: The Bookies Secret Hand Signals

Bookies Hand SignalsTic tac is not just a small sweet that is good for freshening the breath; it is also in fact a form of semi-secret sign language used by bookmakers in order to communicate betting odds and other trackside information at the dogs or horses.

Here we take a look at what tic tac is, its history, its future and some of the key signals, so if you’ve always wanted to know what the devil the odd man at the racecourse was doing waving his hands around like some sort of uncoordinated raver, we should hopefully provide you with some answers!

Tic tac, which is sometimes hyphenated as tic-tac, is most closely associated with horse racing and, in particular, with John McCririck, the racing pundit and presenter. The unmistakeable site of McCririck, deerstalker hat, unkempt sideburns and loud suits, waving his hands around firing out the tic tac signals to accompany his rapid-fire utterances has been a familiar presence on TV screens over the last 30 years or so. 

The History

Tic tac, however, pre-dates that by some margin, although when exactly it was first used is unknown, whilst next to nothing is known about its origins. That may seem strange for what is a relatively recent phenomenon – there is certainly nothing to suggest it existed before mass trackside gambling started in the 20th century. Whilst the origins of tic tac are unclear, the future of this wonderful “language” seems altogether easier to predict, even if it isn’t the most positive of predictions.

Few, if any, genuine tic tac men now exist, with numbers down into single figures in terms of regular tic tac “users” at racecourses around the UK. Tic tac was used as a means of communicating odds in secret, both between rival bookies and also between people working in different roles for the same bookmaker. For example, if a bookie was accepting a large bet on a certain horse they would want to communicate this to other bookies and their own partners so that odds could be adjusted accordingly. Also, members of a bookie’s team would simultaneously monitor the odds of rivals to ensure they stayed competitive and weren’t caught out by any sudden price changes.

Technology has rendered tic tac somewhat redundant, however, as mobile phones, laptops observing the market at betting exchanges and other electronic devices have superseded the eccentric quirks of tic tac as a means of communication. Tic tac is now largely used only for show and indeed only by an older generation and if it hasn’t yet died out entirely, it is surely only a matter of time before that happens. Whilst many love the eccentric, flamboyant, dramatic and almost Masonic nature of tic tac, as with many things in the modern world, the convenience, speed and efficiency of technology means its time is drawing to a close.

Tic Tac Signs and Phrases

For those clinging to tic tac like a desperate, jilted lover, or those determined to preserve its place in British betting, here are a selection of the main tic tac symbols, along with their verbal accompaniments where applicable (many of which are rhyming slang).

  • Evens – there are various phrases used for evens, including straight up, Major Stevens and scotch, whilst odds of evens are “signed” by moving the extended forefingers of both hands up and down and back and forward.
  • 11/10 – 11/10 is called tips and is indicated by touching all fingers on both hands together.
  • 5/4 – 5/4, or 2.25 for you thoroughly modern decimal odds sorts, is known as wrist, due to the tic tac gesture of touching the left wrist with the right hand.
  • 6/4 – 6/4 is indicated by touching the left ear with the right hand and is known as rouf (four backwards) or exes.
  • 7/4 – the right hand is busy again for 7/4 but this time touches the left shoulder, whilst it can also be conveyed by a call of shoulder or neves to rouf (seven to four backwards).
  • 2/1 – 2/1 is bottle, nice and easy, whilst it is signed by touching the nose with that all-important right hand.
  • 5/2 – Once more the nose gets touched but this time by both hands although a tic tac man wary of germs or accusations of nose picking may simply shout face.
  • 3/1 – 3/1 is called carpet and is indicated by the tic tac man moving his hand, palm down, to his chin.
  • 7/2 – If the odds on a given selection are 7/2 the bookie will call carpet and a half or alternatively move both hands to his chest.
  • 5/1 – 5/1, which is a tasty winner in anyone’s books, is called ching, handful or hand and is represented physically by the gesture of moving the right hand to the right shoulder.
  • 10/1 – 10/1 is known in tic tac backward speak as net, or also cockle, whilst the aggressive signing for 10s is punching both fists together.
  • 20/1 – If you know 10/1, learning 20/1 is easy, its double net or two punches together of the fists.
  • 33/1 – If you land a winner at 33/1 you’ll be too busy celebrating to care what the tic tac gesture is but if you haven’t yet landed your massive winner it’s double carpet, or placing the palms of both hands on the chest having first crossed arms.
  • 100/1 – Are you really backing 100/1 shots? Good luck, we hope they pay off but regardless, 100/1 is called century (highly original) and is indicated by the tic tac man putting both hands in front of him and moving them over each other.

Ok, so now you know all about tic tac you’re ready to start using it. Just don’t reckon on anyone under the age of 50 having a clue what the devil you’re on about!