I have great memories of marathon hide-and-go-seek games in my neighborhood in southern California. I have a question, perhaps a bit offbeat. I have a passionate interest in languages and terminology, and that prompts me to ask: what is the origin of that strange phrase used in this game to bring all players (for whatever reason) out of their hiding places at once? I’m referring to the one that sounds to my ears like “Allie allie oxen free.” Oxen?? Referring to the animal? Seems unlikely. My best guess is that the meaning is: All _____ are free to come in without becoming “it” or befalling some other “penalty.” But what really goes in the blank and what is its origin?
Original author: Mitchell D. Hirsch, Ph.D. [e-mail]