[Ads-l] monkey in the middle (1952) -- variants

Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Sat Feb 1 15:12:55 UTC 2020

On 1/28/20 00:00, ADS-L automatic digest system wrote:
> Date:    Mon, 27 Jan 2020 13:19:31 -0500
> From:    Ben Zimmer<bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Re: monkey in the middle (1952)
> On Mon, Jan 27, 2020 at 12:04 PM Wilson Gray<hwgray at gmail.com>  wrote:
>> Never heard of "monkey in the middle," before. However, like Mark, I am
>> unfortunately familiar with "keep-away" from my early grade-school years,
>> During The War, ca.1943-1945.
>> BTW, is monkey in the middle a variant of "man in the middle"?
> I believe it's actually a variant of "pig(gy) in the middle." OED3 has
> examples for "pig in the middle" from 1887, though from the definition it
> sounds like the game started off much rougher: "A children's game in which
> one player is encircled by others and must attempt to escape; a chasing
> game in which players must cross from one side of an open space to the
> other without being stopped by an opposing player; (now chiefly) a ball
> game, usually for three players, in which the middle player tries to
> intercept the ball as it passes between the other two. Also: the player in
> the middle in any of these games."

Yes, passing/tossing over the head of or around the middle person was 
the key action.

"Piggy in the middle" now makes "pickle in the middle" sensible to me: 
It seemed nonsensical to me before (pickles do not run and jump to try 
to snatch something out of the air), but as a derivation from "piggy", 
it makes sense.

---Amy West

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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