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Olly, Olly Oxen Free

Posted by Dianne Sharr on November 03, 2005

Olly, Olly Oxen Free

I liked this explanation by Brooke Adams, in the Salt Lake City Tribune on 19 July 2004

"Olly, olly oxen free!"

"It is used by kids everywhere to signal it is safe to emerge during Hide-and-Seek games. But where did this nonsensical phrase come from?

"I couldn't find a source. One game player guessed it had something to do with oxen, while another was sure it had Olde English roots.

"After the Olly, Olly cry went up in Orem the other night, I asked a few kids where it came from. Shawn Fucile, 8, figured 10 year-old Zach Hedrick made it up. Nick Robinson, 11, knew better. No, that's what you say every time, Nick explained.

My guess? All ye, all ye, come in free, which became mangled while passing from one kid to another: olly, olly oxen free. My husband says the full verse is, "Olly, olly oxen free; if you don't come now, you'll be I-T!"