Playground terms opened up a massive can of worms

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This week I accidentally opened a massive can of worms.

It started innocently enough. We were larking around in the office playing a game of IT (or tig or tag or whatever you call it) when my phone rang. So that I couldn’t be tagged when I was on the phone, I crossed my fingers and said “cross keys can’t tag” as per the usual rules of the playground. Only it turned out they weren’t the usual playground rules at all. Everyone was aghast: “what did you just call that?!” It turns out ‘cross keys’ isn’t the phrase that everyone uses. In our little office alone we called it everything from ‘exeys’ to ‘doubles’

We spoke about it on air this week and the range of words for the same thing was fully unexpected. It wasn’t a north south divide situation either, people who went to schools just a couple of miles apart called it different things too.

Emma Shepherd went to Wyke Manor in Bradford – she also said ‘Cross Keys’ (so it wasn’t just me) meanwhile Ben Rogers and Jason Lee who are both southerners turned northerners called it’ Scribs’. I mean that makes no sense. But it didn’t stop there. Dennis O’Bryan called and he was originally from Liverpool where they called it Barley. Carole Ogden called it Ballis, Chris Marfitt who was schooled in the North East called it Scrinchies while Sarah Richards referred to it as ‘pax’

Then there were the people who clearly went to sensible schools – people like Melanie Stansfield, Karen Giles and Anthony Dodd who opted for the plain and simple ‘fingers crossed’ – I mean that makes a lot of sense right? It does exactly what it says. On the other end of the scale there’s Jo Jo Johnson who said ‘Kings no backs’ and Maureen Gray who said ‘faynee ides’ which I’m not even convinced are actual words.

Scott in Morley gave us a call. As a kid he went to Hugh Gaitskell in Beeston followed by the City of Leeds School and he did something even more peculiar. When he was at school they didn’t cross their fingers at all: “We stuck our thumbs up and if we needed a bit of a reprieve we’d shout out ‘two fours’ which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.” Well, I’m glad he said it!

Just to complicate life further Scott then told us about another game he used to play called ‘scarecrow’. It was similar but if you were tagged you had to stand rooted to the spot with your arms and legs outstretched and you could only be freed if a fellow game player ran under your arms or crawled through your legs. We called it ‘Stuck in the Mud’. Ant had never heard of it at all.

My favourite primary playground game by far was a game called ABC. I think it might have been unique to my school but I know that Mr Duane the headmaster ended up banning it. It was a classic ‘boys versus girls’ showdown. All of the boys would line up against one end of the playground as the girls huddled together in the middle, trying to decide what A B or C would mean in that round. As a general rule A was probably a kick in the shins, B would be a cuddle and C would be a kiss on the cheek.

Once we had made our decisions we would stand in a line in the centre of the playground. Someone would shout ‘ABC GO!’ and the fun would begin. The aim for the boys would be to run the length of the playground without getting caught while the aim of the girls was to grab them. If you caught a boy you’d proudly shout “A B or C” and they’d pick a letter at which point we’d gleefully hand out their appropriate punishment. Incidentally it was ABC that was the cause of my one time visit to the headmaster’s office. The dinner ladies had reported me, not for kicking too many boys but for kissing them. Mr Duane banned the game shortly after that and we went back to playing British Bulldog.