Another Cecil classic...

Bruce Dykes bkd at GRAPHNET.COM
Mon Apr 3 07:17:48 UTC 2000

What's the meaning of "Ollie, Ollie oxen go free"?


Dear Cecil:

Can you tell me the meaning of "Ollie, Ollie oxen go free"? I've been
playing hide-and-go-seek for years and don't know what I've been
saying. --Carolyn Henning, North Aurora, Illinois

Cecil replies:

Aren't we getting a little old for this, Carolyn? I recommend a more mature
game, such as Naked Twister. There are dozens of variations of the refrain
you mention. Cecil seems to recall saying "Ollie, Ollie ocean, free, free,
free." Word sleuths William and Mary Morris offer "Olly, Olly octen free"
and "Olly, Olly, all in free," the last being pretty close to what is
undoubtedly the original expression, "All the outs in free." You'll recall
you're supposed to say it when "It" has found one of the hiders to let the
others know the game is over and they can show themselves. Other versions
include "All the rest home free," "Alley, alley in," "Allee-ins, not
playing," "All the ends stop play," and so on. British kids, compensating
for the loss of Empire with superior playground rhetoric, have "All hands
ahoy," "All in, all in, wherever you are,/ The monkey's in the motor car,"
and the mysterious "All in, all in, spuggy in the tin."  One might inquire
into the meaning of "spuggy," but one isn't sure sure one wants to know.


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