On Tuesday, March 29, 2005, at 01:15 , Thomas Wier wrote:
> Hi all.
> Just the other day, my mind was wandering and I started
> to wonder what the etymology of the the childhood chant
> "olly olly oxen free"
> Evidence to that end would be if the phrase is common
> in both Great Britain and the US,

I cannot speak for the whole of Great Britain, even less of the UK, as
children's chants have traditionally varied in different regions. But down
here in the south of England, I was quite unaware of the chant until in my
teens I found it used by a family of an erstwhile Anglican missionary who
[the family] had been brought up in southern India. Nor did I ever come
across it during the years I lived in South Wales.

I had assumed it was a peculiarity of that family - there were five
children. I seem to recall that older two or three of them had attended an
American school for a time. IIRC - it was some 50 years ago! - they
chanted: "['O:li], ['O:li], oxen free!" (actually I was never sure whether
the last bit was 'oxen free' or 'ox and free'). I assumed the first word
had something to do with "all" and, indeed, 'all-ee' could very well come
from "All ye" as "ye' was pronounced [i] in some dialects, including my
native Sussex, till the late 19th or early 20th cent.

But I could never figure how the 'ox' or 'oxen' got there! And the
derivation _oxen <-- all's in_ seems less likely to me. In those far off
days, it was sort of associated in my juvenile mind with Hindu sacred cows
- I guess because of where the family had been brought up  :)

On Tuesday, March 29, 2005, at 03:43 , caeruleancentaur wrote:
> Do children still play hide-and-seek?

Yes - most certainly they do this side of the Pond - tho IME without the
chant  :)

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Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight,
which is not so much a twilight of the gods
as of the reason."      [JRRT, "English and Welsh" ]