The Auctioneers Chant



Occasionally at a livestock sale you hear people say , "What is the bid? What did he say?" Newcomers are sometimes confused by the auctioneer's rapid speech and feel the auctioneer is saying words and sounds that aren't meant to be understood. Although the most widely recognized talent of the auctioneer is undoubtedly his or her ability to talk rapidly – the first thing one should know about auctioneers is that their main job is to communicate, and if the audience cannot understand him or her, the auctioneer is not doing a good job.

This method of rapid-fire talking is called the auctioneer's chant. The rhythmic chant used by most livestock auctioneers in the United States is unique to North America. It evolved as auctioneers saw the need to sell animals in a more rapid manner. The chant is used to hold the attention of the audience and to keep the auction moving at a steady pace. Unlike other types of sales, an auction is an event where all the customers are present at the same time. Thus, the auctioneer is responsible for selling all the animals within a few hours, and his or her use of the chant helps keep the items moving. The chant is a series of numbers connected by "filler" words to give the buyer time to think between bids.

A basic auctioneer chant goes like this:

"Who'll give me a hundred dollars?
One hundred dollar bid, now two,
now two, will ya give me two?

Two hundred dollar bid, now three,
now three hundred, will ya give me three?

Two hundred, two and a half, two-fifty,
How about two-fifty? fifty? fifty? fifty? I got it!

How about two sixty? sixty? sixty?
I've got two sixty, now seventy?
how about seventy? two-seventy?

Most auctioneers have their own series or combination of filler words. These words are everything except the numbers. Filler words are used to restate the last number bid and to give buyers time to consider whether they want to bid higher. The filler words are carriers -- they "carry" the numbers, which are the most important part of the chant.

Auctioneers create a steady rhythm in their chants by using phrases that flow and roll. The rhythm enables the crowd to listen longer and faster by keeping the bids at regular intervals. This helps the bidders know what to expect next and to keep the bids coming at a constant pace. Auctioneers can be seen moving their hands to the rhythm of the chant. This helps keep the bid fresh in the auctioneers mind. For example, palms up might be the auctioneers private signal to himself that he is on an even hundred bid. Palm down might be an odd hundred bid, or fifty. Each auctioneer develops his own method of keeping track.

Many people think auctioneers sound like they're singing because the rhythm has a beat much like music does. The steady beat allows the auctioneer's chant to move more rapidly than normal speech. Since auctioneers have a limited amount of time to sell many animals, they need to speak quickly. At an average horse auction, the auctioneer's chant helps him or her sell an average of 30 animals per hour. Certain types of auctions go even faster: wholesale automobile auctioneers frequently sell 125-175 cars per hour and tobacco auctioneers may sell 500-600 lots per hour, with buyers using a series of hand motions to signify bids. These hand signals are universal -- which enables foreign buyers to communicate with the auctioneer.

Besides keeping the auction moving, the fast-paced chant creates excitement and makes the auction entertaining. Auctioneers will adjust their pace, depending on the number of animals and the time allowed for each one. After all, the auctioneer can only chant as fast as the bidders will bid. Next time you attend an auction, concentrate on the numbers in the auctioneer's chant, as well as the "filler words". The numbers are the most important part of the chant, and are pronounced the most clearly. So next time you attend a livestock auction, listen carefully. You CAN understand the auctioneer!


For more information, contact one of the sources listed below

National Auctioneers Association
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