LINGUIST List 7.170

Fri Feb 2 1996

Sum: Children's games

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "Jack Wiedrick", Sum: Children's games

Message 1: Sum: Children's games

Date: Fri, 02 Feb 1996 16:52:23 GMT
From: "Jack Wiedrick" <WIED6480VARNEY.IDBSU.EDU>
Subject: Sum: Children's games
 I would like to offer my thanks to all those who answered my
question about child-game terminology in various languages. The
responses were too numerous to allow citation here or personal thank-
you replies, but for you who answered, you know who you are, and I
thank you very sincerely. (Another reason why I am reluctant to
relinquish my sources is that in a fit of idiocy I accidentally
deleted about four or five of them from my e-mail box! So, if you
sent in a response which is not covered here or even mentioned,
that's why. Please feel free to write the list and cite it as an
addendum to this summary.)

 I did get quite a few responses, but most of the languages of the
world were, unfortunately, not covered. So this summary is not as
broad-based as I would have liked to make it, but what the data lacks
in breadth it makes up for in depth of information. The best-
attested languages I have data for are Germanic ones from northern
Europe, including English, of course. There is a light sprinkling of
others, too, including such diverse languages as Turkish and Hebrew.

 The format is as follows. For those who want the quick and
dirty, the first section of this summary is just an alphabetical list
of languages and terminology from those languages. Following that
will be a section which includes more peripheral information relating
to the phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic structure
of the terms (where this information is available). Enjoy!

_Language_ _Game_ _Role__
Afrikaans touch ?
Chinese ? guei
Danish tik, tagfat, du-er-den den der er den
Dutch tikkertje, diefje-met-verlos,
 verstoppertje hem, het
English tag, tick, tickerit, hide'n'-
 seek, kick-the-can, blind-man's
 bluff, fox-and-geese it, he, on, on
 it, hit, (have)
 the mang, the
French (jouer) chat, (jouer a) la pie le chat, la pie
German fangen, einkriegen es, bist/ist/etc.
Hebrew maxbo'im ha-omed, ha-tofes
Japanese onigokko oni
Norwegian sisten, tikken, sura, doktor-
 sisten (har)'n
Portuguese ? pegador
Spanish ? la mancha,
 gallito ciego
Swedish burken (aer/har) burken,
 aer, han
Thamizh (Tamil) kaNNAmUchchi, iceboy(s) ?
Turkish ? ebe

 Well, that's the lot. The more detailed information is as

Afrikaans The word 'touch' seems to be a loan from English. To
 signal that the turn has passed, the old person says to
 the new person: _jy het die touch_ 'you have the touch'.

Chinese I don't know the tonal behaviour of _guei_, but the word
 itself means 'demon/devil/etc', and may possibly have
 come into use through Japanese influence in Taiwan.
 (This word is reported from Taiwan only.) The character
 used is the same one used in Japanese to write _oni_.

Danish Although one says _du er den_ 'you are it' to change
 turns, _den_ '(common gender) it/that (one)/etc' by
 itself cannot be used as a subject if referring to the
 game-role. Instead, _den der er den_ 'the one that is
 it' or something similar is used.

Dutch I got some mixed responses here. At least one person
 claimed that _het_ 'it' was acceptable, but others
 seemed to feel that only _hem_ 'him' was appropriate in
 this context. One respondent suggested that there was a
 slight semantic differentiation between the two in this
 context, with _hem_ being used to assign role-status, eg.
 _hij was hem_ 'he was "him" (ie. "it")', vs. _het_ which
 is used to check who was doing the tagging, eg. _was zij
 het?_ 'was she the one?'. At any rate, all respondents
 agreed that _hem_ was the normal term to refer to the
 game-role, regardless of the gender of the referent. It
 apparently cannot be used free-standingly, as English
 'it' can, and is generally unstressed and pronounced as
 [m] (where =schwa). The phrase _je bent'm!_ 'you are
 "him"!' is used when tagging. _Diefje-met-verlos_ means
 'prisoners'-base' and is a variant of the game where a
 free-area of sorts is introduced where players may go to
 escape tagging temporarily. _Verstoppertje_ corresponds
 to English 'hide-n-seek'.

English I hadn't expected to get so much information on English,
 but there really is a wealth of variation reported. For
 instance, there are many places (some places in England
 and Australia, at least) where the person is called 'he'
 rather than 'it'. In these places, 'he' is used for both
 male and female players. In North-east Scotland, a
 variant 'hit' was reported (relic of older pronunciation
 of 'it'), although the usual term in this area was
 apparently 'the mannie' (='the man') when referring to the
 game-role. Another interesting variant was reported from
 North Staffs, England: 'tickerit' (or shortened 'tick') as
 the game-name, and the chaser said 'tick!' when tagging;
 this was analyzed by at least one person from this area
 as 'tick or hit' (later as 'tick or it'). 'Tick' was
 also reported from Dudley, England. In Dudley, however,
 the person chasing was said to be 'on' rather than 'it',
 and other places in England as well report 'on'
 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) or even 'on it'. There was
 apparently another related game in Dudley where the
 person chasing was said to have 'the mang' (pronounced
 [mejng], where "ng"=velar nasal stop). There is of course
 also a great variety of other related games, including
 hide-n-seek (the seeker must find hidden players), blind-
 man's-bluff (the chaser is blindfolded), fox-and-geese
 (involves following trails in the chase process) and kick-
 the-can (involves--or used to involve--the goal of
 kicking a centrally-located can to gain amnesty). All of
 these games may also have safe locations ("[home]base")
 or counting or whatnot. The most common way to signal a
 turn-change in the US seems to be by calling out 'You're
 it!', or 'Tag! You're it!'. A few people offered
 speculations as to what 'it' might refer to. One person
 suggested that it was a frozen form from Middle English,
 and another that it was originally exophoric in referring
 to something on the order of a goblin or monster.

French The most responses I got were from France, where _le
 chat_ 'the cat' seems to be the rule. In New Brunswick,
 however, the form _la pie_ 'the magpie' is apparently a
 metaphorical extension of a clipping of _la pie voleuse_
 'the stealing magpie'. In New Brunswick, a variation was
 reported where there existed a safe spot where one could
 rest for just as long as it took to say _un, deux, trois,
 pie rouge!_ 'one, two, three, red magpie!'.

German In both Germany and Austria, _fangen_ 'to catch/chase' is
 the game-name, and the role is _es_ 'it', just as in
 English, with one important difference: _es_ cannot carry
 lexical stress, and is frequently reduced where possible,
 eg. _ich bin's_ 'I'm "it"' vs. _du bist es_ 'you're
 "it"'. From Berlin, though, the variant _einkriengen_
 'to catch (colloq.)' was reported, and the assignment of
 role-status was achieved solely by use of the copula, eg.
 _er ist_ 'he is' or _du bist_ 'you are', etc. This could
 be strongly stressed if answering a question about whose
 turn it was. The Berlin informant also suggested that
 these reduced clauses could be clipped versions of _du
 bist dran_ or _du bist abgeschlagen_. There was also a
 variation on the game called _Franzoesisch Einkriegen_
 'French tag', where the tagger got to kiss the tagee. (I
 seem to recall something on that order here in the US,
 too, also called, appropriately enough, "French tag".)
 As a little side-note, a German second-language learner
 reported that their high school German class would
 initiate the game in class after greeting each other with
 _Guten Tag_ or _Tag_, apparently drawing on the spelling
 similarity, and despite the large difference in
 pronunciation (in German, _tag_ is pronounced [tak], vs.
 English [taeg], where "ae" is a low front vowel.)

Hebrew Don't know much here. The game is apparently called
 _maxbo'im_ 'hiding places', and the chaser must stand,
 close eyes, count, etc. He or she is referred to as
 _ha-omed_ 'the stander'. Another variant, perhaps more
 like my "tag", is where the game-role is called _ha-
 tofes_ 'the catcher'.

Japanese I already kind of talked about this one, but in case some
 didn't notice the original post, the game-role is referred
 to as _oni_ 'demon/devil/imp/goblin/etc', and the game is
 called _onigokko_, which means 'demon game'. When tagging
 someone, one cries out with _oni!_ or _oni da!_ '(you)
 are oni!', or some version therof.

Norwegian There is some dialectal variation in the game-names,
 including _sisten_ (which all respondents analyzed as
 'the last one'), _tikken_, and _sura_ (the latter
 two don't seem to have a very active meaning outside the
 game context). _Sisten_ seems by far to be the most
 common. On the turn-change, one says something like _du
 har'n!_ 'you have it!'. The _har'n_ is a contraction of
 _har den_ 'have it'. Some places say _sisten!_ or even
 _siss!_ here, but the game-role is still the person who
 _har sisten_ 'has "sisten"', and not *_er sisten_ 'is
 "sisten"'. Another possible name for the game role is
 _han_ '(masc. inanimate, not neuter) it'. Varieties of
 the game include a spreading-virus version, where the
 whatever is passed along until everyone _har'n_; another
 is called _doktor-sisten_ 'doctor-"sisten"', where the
 one who is touched has to hold their hand over the spot
 and chase in that manner until touching someone else.

Portuguese All I know is that the game-role is called _pegador_,
 which means 'hitter' in Spanish, but which my informant
 glossed as 'catcher'.

Spanish I have only information for Argentina, but there the role
 (and game??) is called _la mancha_ 'the spot/stain'.
 Another variety, similar to English blind-man's-bluff, is
 called _gallito ciego_ 'blind rooster' (pronounced
 [gaz^ito sjego], where "z^" is a voiced alveolar

Swedish The only game-name I recieved was _burken_ 'the can', and
 in this game the role is also referred to as either _har
 burken_ 'have the can' or _aer burken_ 'is the can' (the
 description I received of this game seemed very similar
 to English kick-the-can). Other varieties of game-role
 terms are _X aer_ 'X is' or _han (<har den)_ 'has it'.

Thamizh In this language (spoken in southern India), the game is
 (Tamil) called either _kaNNAmUchchi_ or (English, I presume?)
 'iceboy(s)'. The etymology is apparently uncertain, but
 the word may be related to _kaNNu~_ 'eye', _pUchchi_
 'insect', _kaNNa mUDu~_ 'close (your) eyes', or none of
 the above. (The pronunciation is as follows: a capital
 letter indicates either a retroflex consonant or a long
 vowel; double letters indicate geminates, I assume; and
 the symbol "u~" is taken to indicate a high central
 lax vowel. I have no idea whether orthographic "h"
 indicates aspiration or affrication.

Turkish All I know is that _ebe_ means 'midwife', of all things!

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed reading this long and tiresome account;
I certainly enjoyed getting the data, and am now much better educated
on the topic than before. Linguistic universals were not to be found
anywhere, even with this limited sample, but I think the above
account testifies strongly to a common humanity, which is even better.

Thanks again to all who contributed.

Jack Wiedrick
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