“Olly Olly Oxen Free”

I have written in previous posts about growing up in the large house with a two acre yard pictured above. Both places were excellent for hide and go seek, a perennial game in my childhood. There were two versions of the game. The one we played at home had one child hide and everyone else look for that child. The one who found the hider won. If no one could find the missing sibling, we would yell out “olly olly oxen free” and the hiding one would win the game.

With my friends we tended to play the other version. In this case one of us would hide and we all had to seek. When anyone found the one hiding, she(this was always an all girl game)joined her in the hiding place. The game continued until only one seeker was left. That seeker, noticing she was alone, would realize she had lost and she would yell out “olly olly oxen free.”

I am mystified about how we learned this phrase. It, like jump rope rhymes, ghost stories and the sites of witch houses in the neighborhood seemed to float from kid to kid, apart from adults, in its own child world. Since I have readers from around the world, I am curious if any of you heard this phrase and have any idea of its origin.

24 thoughts on ““Olly Olly Oxen Free”

  1. After far too long, I am finally following your blog! I have managed to ‘free up’ the follow room, as some that I follow just seem to have gone very quiet.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I am delighted. You were so helpful to me when I started this blog. Many readers I have I found through your commentators. Arlene from the Philippines and Rachel from the Cricket Pages were my first two readers. I think we inhabit a little subset of the blog world where many of us read each other.

  2. Fun times!! We used to play hide-n-seek outside with all the neighbor kids late into the summer evening. Whoever was ‘it’ closed their eyes and counted to 10 out loud while everyone else hid. When time was up, they had to find the hiding ones before they could run home free. When time was up whoever was still hidden would be called in by ‘Olly olly in come free.” At least that’s what I remember, since this all happened waaaaay back in the last century! 🙂

  3. I have not heard this phrase before, Elizabeth, but we also played hide and seek. Only the first version where there is one seeker. I remember playing catches as a kid and falling into a cactus. I still have the scars to prove it.

  4. This is very interesting as over on this side of the Atlantic the same phrase is used. I used it when playing in Scotland as a boy and heard it in England also. It is straneg to think that a phrase in a child’s game can have travelled around the globe.

  5. PS : It seems some think the origin is German “Alle, alle auch sind frei” (All All, also all are free !), or Dutch, but there is considerable debate. But it’s Wikipedia and Quora pages do suggest that it has travelled by word of mouth many miles and years

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