"Connecring the dots": origin?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue May 4 02:05:39 UTC 2010

At 9:32 PM -0400 5/3/10, Wilson Gray wrote:
>I've also always had the feeling that the reference to the :picture"
>game, too. In "dots," the point isn't to learn, discover, or reason
>through anything, but to defeat your opponent.
>Sadly, I recall dots with less pleasure than Larry does, it being the
>case that my younger brother regularly kicked my ass, metaphorically
>speaking, in that game. Well, as my otherwise-loving wife has pointed
>out, I lack any concept of strategy.

It is indeed the game at the wiki entry Garson provides, although I
don't recall any specific name for it; besides the pencil and paper
variant at that site, there's the game I was recalling as
"Territories", "Territory", or "Land", which I finally found after
some searching on the web under jack-knife games.  (I forgot that
crucial feature.)  It's described here under "Territory Land", (a
moniker which would have struck us as redundant even back then):
http://www.4to40.com/games/index.asp?gid=4.  ("Stretch", mentioned in
the discussion, is also familiar, but it was a lot less interesting
strategically.)   I like the "equipment required" parameter:  "A plot
of dirt and a jack knife."  (And yes, even in NYC, there was dirt
available, contrary to the implications at the web site.  I think the
advent of TV had more to do with the decline of the game than the
absence of dirt.)

Other sites, e.g. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-mumblety-peg.htm,
take Territories/Land to be "a version of mumblety-peg" but for us
(in NYC and a Maine-based boys' summer camp for mostly New Yorkers)
"mumblety-peg" was reserved for the kinds of display-of-skill
contests  described in detail at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumblety-peg.  (Interesting that m-p
turns up in _Tom Sawyer_; I probably took that for granted back when
I read it.)


(And no, we didn't play these games with switch blades.)

>On Mon, May 3, 2010 at 7:55 PM, Jonathan Lighter
><wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
>>  Subject:      Re: "Connecring the dots": origin?
>>  I think it's more likely to allude to the "drawing" kind of
>>  "connect-the-dots" game.
>>  As you connect those dots, a recognizable picture emerges.
>>  Hence the metaphor. IMO.
>>  JL
>>  On Mon, May 3, 2010 at 7:42 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>wrote:
>>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>>  -----------------------
>>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>>  Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>>  Subject:      Re: "Connecring the dots": origin?
>>>  At 6:46 PM -0400 5/3/10, Wilson Gray wrote:
>>>  >When I was a child, there was a popular game called "dots." You put
>>>  >parallel lines of equal numbers of dots onto a sheet of paper. The
>>>  >number of lines was a function of the patience of the person drawing
>>>  >up the "board." The game was played by connecting the dots, drawing
>>>  >only one line at a time. Neither player "owned" the lines, so that A
>>>  >could draw a line to connect a dot to which B had already drawn a line
>>>  >to make a connection. The point of the game was to be the one who was
>>>  >able to make the most squares by connecting the dots. A put "A" into
>>>  >his squares and B put "B" into his, to keep track.
>>>  >
>>>  >There were also puzzle-drawing for kids that involved connecting
>>>  >seemingly randomly-placed, numbered dots in such a way as to draw some
>>>  >figure by connecting the dots in mumerical order.
>>>  >
>>>  >I'm not suggesting that *either* of these games is the source of the
>>>  >phrase, "connecting the dots." They're just two games that I know of
>  >> >that involve connecting the dots and which come to mind whenever I
>>>  >hear talk of "connecting the dots."
>>>  >
>>>  >Does anyone know the actual source of the phrase? BTW, I don't really
>>>  >care. I'm just randomly wondering.
>>>  >
>>>  We played that first game in NYC; I'd totally forgotten it.  It was a
>>>  variant of another game called "Territories". I remember both fondly.
>>>  The second, puzzle-drawing exercise was a lot less exciting, but I
>>>  always associated the "connect the dots" metaphor (as in the
>>>  blamecasting post 9-11) with that one.  But it's nice to be reminded
>>>  me of that first one!
>>>  LH
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