Posted by ESC on June 25, 2000
This phrase came up months ago. I was just browsing and found this. Thought someone might still be interested:
OLLY, OLLY OXEN FREE - "If you've ever wondered about the origins of this chant - used to call in all players at the end of a game of hide-and-seek - be advised that the experts only have a partial answer to your lifelong puzzlement. Word sleuths are fairly certain that the 'oxen' (or 'octen') in the call is simply a childish corruption of 'all in.' The rest remains a mystery." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).