Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ollie, Ollie

Q. Where did "ollie ollie oxen free" come from? For that matter, exactly what does it mean?

A. As you went on to mention, you heard it used when children played Hide and Go Seek.

It probably started out as "All-ee, all-ee, outs in free," a call from the person who was "it" letting those hidden (the outs) know it was safe to come in. The -ee was added for emphasis and for its piercing quality; I remember sitting on my bike outside a friend's house and hollering, "Oh, Ralphieeee!" at the top of my lungs when I was young.

There are many regional variations, most of them the product of dialectical interference or regional preference. It reminds me of the old parlor game, Telephone.

Variations include
• Ollie Ollie in come free,
• Oly Oly oxen free,
• Ollie Ollie oxenfreed,
• Alley Alley oats in free,
• Oly Oly ocean free,
• All-ye All-ye outs in free,
• Oly Oly Olsen's free.

That last one comes from Minnesota. Check with Lena.

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