"giant steps"/ "may-I"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 8 05:02:31 UTC 2006

"Mother may I" is also the name that I know it by. How it differs from
"giant steps" and how they both differ from "red light" I no longer


On 7/7/06, Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at babel.ling.upenn.edu> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "giant steps"/ "may-I"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On 7/7/06, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> >
> > Neither of these is in OED, though both name for the children's game were
> > current in NYC in the mid '50s.  "Giant steps" should be included because
> > Neil Armstrong's words from the Moon alluded to it.
> >
> >   1926 _Elementary School Journal_ (Feb.) XXVI 427: A group of children
> > were playing a game of "May-I" in connection with their language work.
> It is a bit surprising that the OED3 revisions haven't covered "May
> I?", or the name I heard as a kid, "Mother May I?". But both are
> mentioned in a cite from the Opies in the entry for "step, n.":
> -----
> 1f. Chiefly pl. Any of various children's games (see quots.). Cf.
> Grandmother's (Foot)steps s.v. GRANDMOTHER n. 1d.
> 1909 J. H. BANCROFT Games for Playground 188 Step... The object of the
> game is for the players who are lined up in the rear to advance
> forward until they cross the line where the counter is stationed
> [etc.]. 1940 N. MARSH Surfeit of Lampreys (1941) ix. 127 The childish
> game of Steps in which, whenever the 'he' has his back turned, the
> players creep nearer. 1969 I. & P. OPIE Children's Games vi. 189 'May
> I?' as the usual name, but sometimes the game is known as 'Steps',
> 'All Sorts', 'Walk to London', 'Variety', or 'Mother, May I?'.
> -----
> >   1953 Douglas Wallop _Night Light_ (N.Y.: Norton) 67: I want to play Giant
> > Steps. I'm having fun.
> (Hmm... too early to be a Coltrane fan...)
> --Ben Zimmer
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