Hollered out by children around the universe at the end of a game of Hide-and-go-seek. Relief washes over you as you meander casually from your hiding spot. The loser stands with his head down as the previous loser grins victoriously.

Being small and sly I was not caught often. I generally hid in insane places like the tops of trees and dryers. When I was it logical deductive reasoning always led me to the obvious hiding spots.

I find it hard to believe that we as adults don't play hide-and-go-seek; it was always more fun than any of the other "normal" games. I'm sorry, but Basketball, Baseball and Football all sucked compared to the real sports. Hide-and-go-seek, Dodgeball, Dog-eat-Dog (commonly referred to as Doggydog), kickball, handball, Four Square and of course, Wallball.

I may well have been a nerd, and you may not have liked me, but you would have been a fool not to have picked me first when playing those sorts of games. I was a GOD of Dodgeball, at least 3rd best at Dog-eat-dog and don't even talk to me about Wallball; I was the screaming messiah of "crackshots" and "jawbreakers". I could leave welts on the arms of those Baseball playing wimps on the Dog-eat-dog court without even trying hard. The fear in their eyes as you barrel down on them with a tattered heavy foam ball; ecstasy. It was those other losers and nerds that you had to watch out for.

Gabe, the kid that always wore mittens, even in the summer and only played Wallball. He was a good 6 inches shorter than anyone else and I don't think he ever spoke a word but man; could that kid hit a ball.

The Buckley brothers were Dog-eat-dog professionals; though scorned and teased for everything else, when they hit the court, people ran from them.

You played Four Square with fat Sarah and you got used to losing quickly.

Those were the fun games; where the rules were spouted by the previous games winner in a stream of nearly indecipherable jargon and where all those soon-to-be jocks and pretty boys didn't stand a chance.


Back to The REAL Games Metanode
The original English from which this bit of kid-speak descended appears to have been something along the lines of "All ye, all ye out are in free". That is to say, all the players who remain out hiding in the yard are free to come back to the starting point, without being caught out.

In an early Peanuts comic strip, an unfortunate Linus van Pelt rendered this call as as "Ollie Ollie Olsen Free-O". This elicited a great deal of mockery from Lucy, who corrected him with "All-ee, all-ee, out are in free."

When I was in grade school, the call was "All-ee, all-ee, out's in free."

Judging from a softlink at "Ali Ali Oxen free", it seems that someone thinks this expression came from the Biblical "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" (Jesus's "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?") This strikes me as an amusing, but highly unlikely, etymological possibility.

Funny, you don't have to invoke Middle English to say "Alle, alle, alle sind frei." Um,"All , all, all are free." in English, that was in German. And there were a great many Germans in Early America.

Shouted by children in the United Kingdom and the United States to signify that a game of hide & seek or similar is over, and that all players can come out of hiding.

The original form of the phrase is hypothesized to have been 'all in free or all's out come in free', with time and repetition distorting it eventually to 'all-ee all-ee (all) in free' or 'all-ee all-ee out(s) in free'. The additional "ee" sound and the repetition of "all" contribute to audibility and rhythm.

From this root, a number of variant folk etymologies come forward, the most common of which has 'oxen' replacing 'out(s)' in, giving 'all-ee all-ee oxen free'; with the 'all-ee' reinterpreted as the diminutive nickname 'Ollie'.

Accurately dating the expression is difficult, as it wasn't collected until the 1950s and later. However, it seems that they were in common use by the 1920s, and probably earlier, as the expression "home free" is found in print in the 1890s and the game of hide-and-seek is at least 400 years old.

NB: a scar faery notes that in the Black Country, semantic drift has transformed the familiar refrain: "There I was," she writes, "casually looking over the children's games node, when it suddenly hit me that Ali ali oxenfree -- or ollie ollie oxen free -- was exactly the same as what I knew as "acky acky 1 2 3". Drift is a magical thing."


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