Your Voices

Playground Language

Traditional children’s games and songs are a rich source of regional words. Even the simplest game of chase has a number of different names that vary according to where you are in the UK – it, tig, tag or tiggy. Research by Peter and Iona Opie in the 1950s and 1960s also unearthed an enormous range of regional truce terms, such as barley, scribs, fainites, pax, skinchies, cross keys and full stop. These are all words or phrases children shout while crossing their fingers to indicate they are briefly withdrawing from a game of chase and therefore cannot be caught. We would like you to contribute your truce terms and other words and phrases to help us chart today’s playground vocabulary.

Complete the following survey of words and terms associated with children’s playground games and send them to soundsfamiliar@bl.uk Please make sure you include the name and location of your school.

  • Name
  • School
  • Age
  • Location

Think of a basic chasing game, in which one person is trying to catch the other players, and consider the following:

  • What do you call this game?
  • How do you refer to the person chosen to catch the others?
  • What does the catcher shout out when he/she touches someone?
  • What do you call the 'safe area' where you can't be caught?
  • What word do players use to tell the chaser they can't be caught, because they want a rest or need to leave the game briefly (do players also cross their fingers or use some other hand signal)?

Think of games that are variations on this basic chasing game and consider the following:

  • What do you call the game where players can’t be caught if they‘re ‘off the ground’?
  • What do you call the game where players who are caught stand still with their arms outstretched until freed by another player touching them?
  • What do you call the game where you have to run from one base to another without being caught?
  • What do you call the game where one player leans against a wall while the others try and creep up without the player against the wall spotting them moving? (What phrase does the player against the wall have to say in this game before turning round?)

Think of the chasing game where players have to hide and try and get back to home base before the catcher finds them. Consider the following:

  • What’s your name for the home base in this game?
  • What phrase does the catcher use when they spot someone in this game?
  • What phrase do players use in this game if they beat the catcher back to base?
  • What phrase do players use in this game if they beat the catcher back to base and want to free any other players who’ve already been caught?

Think of how these chasing games are ‘managed’ and consider the following:

  • What do you shout out if you want to go first at a game, or if you want to avoid being picked as the chaser?
  • What method do you generally use to decide who is the seeker/chaser?
  • If you use a counting-out rhyme, do you count bodies, hands or feet?
  • Give a couple of examples of well-used counting-out rhymes.
  • How do you decide how long the seeker/chaser will give the other players to take up their positions?