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Posted by Smokey Stover on July 17, 2005

In Reply to: 'Crosskeys!' posted by Victoria S Dennis on July 16, 2005

: : : In the classic childrens game 'Tag' (though it has also been used in many other variations such as 'Stuck in the Mud' or even 'Hide and Seek Tag'), there is something they do that protects them from being 'tagged'. This is to cross their middle and fore-finger over (sometimes on both hands) and say 'Crosskeys!'. What does 'crosskeys' mean exactly, and does the shape they make have anything to do with when you cross your fingers when you're lying?

: : I assume it would be spelled 'crosskies' and is a diminutive of 'cross' (as in the crossing of fingers.) There are a number of such sayings which convey immunity upon he/she who says them: perhaps the most common is 'fainites'.

: : I have no idea what that means, either.

: : DFG

: In Peter and Iona Opie's great book Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, published in 1959, they found a huge variety of "truce terms" in use in British schools. Cross keys, crosses, creases, cruces, truces, bruises, cree, creams, crogs, croggie, scribs, scrams, screams, scrases, screws, scruces, skinch, scrogs, exes, kings, keys, vains, fains, fainites, fanlights, fainsies, snakes, keppies, barley, bars, barsey, barley-up, barley-bees, ballow, barrels were all in use somewhere in Britain. Of these, "barley" and its variants probably derive from "parley", and the "fains/fainites" group from the mediaeval English phrase "fain I" , meaning "I decline", from old French "se feindre" meaning "to make excuses, hang back, back away from a fight". The Opies noted that these truce words almost always went with a hand gesture, usually crossed fingers, so it's possible (though the Opies didn't commit themselves to this) that the "crosses/cross keys/cruces" group refer to the gesture. (VSD)

I don't think most Americans have ever heard a single one of those interesting terms used in the games of British schoolchildren, not, that is, in the meaning assigned to them by the children. As to "fain," I think most Americans would immediately associate "I fain" with the more usual meaning, "I rejoice, I take pleasure." There are a lot of American children's games with which I'm not familiar, but even so none, I think, have so extensive a vocabulary as that recorded by the Opies. SS

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