Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free

Sadly, I should probably say “was,” because that form was documented by the Dictionary of American Regional English back in the 1960s. You don’t have to be a geezer to see that the loss of the native culture of childhood to cable TV, videogames and their ilk represents the severing of a irreplaceable link between everyday life today and life centuries ago. The anarchic play of unsupervised kids was, in a real sense, steeped in the culture, from chivalry to superstition, of their great-great-great-and-beyond-grandparents. Kids grew up, but the ancient river of childhood flowed on to greet each new generation. But I’m sure that soon we’ll have an app to replace that. Nom nom.

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32 comments on this post.
  1. Larry Israel:

    When I was a kid back in the 1940′s (New York City) we said “Home Free All”. I never heard of “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free” until my kids were playing (Allentown, Pa.) thirty years later.

  2. gordon:

    I heard it originated as “calling all the outs in free” and eventually morphed into “ollie ollie oxen free”

  3. CAROLE MUSGRAVE:

    I HEARD IT COME FROM OLDEN TIMES WHEN IT WAS, ALL IN ALL IN URCHINS FREE. URCHINS BEING KIDS

  4. admin:

    BACK WHEN THE CAP LOCK KEY WAS WELDED DOWN?

  5. Jodi:

    I’m 52 and a half years old, and ollie, ollie, oxen free is what I said as a child.

  6. Ron Grimes:

    Well, here’s my twist on this saying. This year, I decided to learn German, and I’m currently at level 4 of the German Rosetta Stone course. As you may know, English is a Germanic language, and so many of our words sound very close. I was thinking the other day about the origin of Ollie Ollie oxen free, and I noticed how this could easily have been the poor attempts of English speaking children to imitate their German speaking friends shouting, “Alle alle auch sind frei.”, which means All, All are free.

  7. Ron Grimes:

    Btw, punch that German phrase into Google translate and then click the speak icon in the lower right of the translation box, and see if you can hear the similarity. See http://translate.google.com/?hl=en&tab=wT#auto/en/alle%20alle%20auch%20sind%20frei

  8. Ron:

    Of course, another German phrase that’s possible is changing auch to such, as in “Alle alle euch sind frei”, which would render “All, you all are free.” Euch is you and auch is also.

  9. MarkB:

    I seem to recall ‘ollie ollie entry,’ while my father told me he used ‘oxen free.’ I’m surprised to see no mention of ‘new cucumber’ here. Typically, a boy would should ‘ollie ollie entry/oxen free, new cucumber!’ This was notice that a new person was joining the game. This was in Boston during the 1960s. It’s been suggested that ‘new cucumber’ was a play on ‘new comer,’ as in new person joining the game.

    I have to add that when I was using these words, it never occurred to me that they could be spelled out. Since they were only used orally, there was no reason for them to be tied down to a particular literary form. I think that at the time I would have transliterated ‘ally-ally,’ as in ‘all of you.’ The ‘ollie’ spelling I see now certainly makes less sense than my original assumption.

    It is sad to see that this sort of thing seems to be disappearing. Generations of children passed these cultural tidbits down to each other, without schooling or parents being involved. Now? I doubt hide and seek has been played in my old Boston neighborhood in decades.

  10. Sandra Lewis:

    I heard it from my old Irish grandmother that it is a slurred version of “All ye, all ye, out and free!”

    Gee, my cap lock key was never welded down properly, it keeps CoMiNg UnStUcK. Must have got a bad one here.

  11. lorla bene:

    this 76 yr grandma definitely remembers olly olly ocean free new cucumber…..don’t know why we used “ocean” instead of “oxen”, but we had fun…. I’m also surprised not too much mention of “new cucumber”….

  12. Joe:

    Never heard of cucumber, but we called out “Ally, ally in come free”. I guess it was pretty clean cut in St. Louis in the 70′s.

  13. Karen:

    I grew up in the 1950′s and we would play hide and seek and use the term “ollie, ollie, oxen free”. I grew up on the west coast

  14. Jonathan:

    Does anybody know of the version, “Ollie, Ollie home come free!”. That’s what I used when I was little in the New York/Connecticut area. I am using it in a show (I am a comedian/singer/songwriter) and I’d like to use 1. a version that people in New York/Connecticut would recognize, and 2. another version that people in Scotland would recognize.

    Thanks so much!

  15. Jaime:

    I was born in 1985 and grew up (mostly) in Sharon, PA (on the OH) border. My friends and I always said Olly Olly oxen free. In never even occurred to that there may other variations until I decided to look the phrase up. I also lived in FL and IN growing up, and I can’t remember if my friends used the phrase in either of those places. I know it was common in PA, though.

  16. Diana P:

    I always thought it was from “All ye! All ye! All’s in free” and when I was a kid we pronounced it “Allie! Allie! Aoughts in free”. I was in California but my parents were from Kansas.

  17. Goldy M:

    We played Hide & Seek games until dark in Southern CA. We called “Olly Olly Oxen Free Free Free”. This was late 40s/early 50s. I’m now teaching the phrase to my grandchildren who don’t seem to mind that grandma is kind of slow getting to base (they always win!). But they love yelling out this phrase.

  18. Joan:

    I’m seventy one and as children we said “Ollie Ollie oxen free!” I don’t know what made me think of it today but that is what made me look it up. I found it interesting, the many variations of it from around the world. The German rendition made a lot of sense. It’s funny how a lot of things came from the old country. I think we’re all hiding from something, wishing someone would free us up from those burdens we somethimes harbor. There’s always a reason when things come to mind. How blessed we are to have the internet, to free us from so many unanswered questions.So I wish you all, “Ollie Ollie oxen free.” God Bless.

  19. Larry Bailey:

    I’am 51 and grew up in upstate NY. We would always yell Ollie Ollie Homefree when you managed to get back to home base without being tagged, while the seeker was out looking for other hiders. Our games never ended until either everybody made it to homebase or where tagged out trying to get to homebase. Why would you give a free pass and stop the game before it was over??? Weird!

  20. Pat:

    I spent my elementary school years in suburban St. Louis during the ’50s. We used the “in come free” version (see “Joe” above).

  21. Kris:

    Back in the 1950′s, we used Ollie, Ollie, Oxen. Oxen Free. Who don’t come, it will be.

  22. Susan:

    I’m 60 and grew up downstate Illinois. We said “ally, ally oxen free-o”. Don’t know why the free-o unless one of us was trying to say free-er and had a speech impediment! We grew up on a farm and there were 7 of us kids, so lots of room and places to play hide and seek.

  23. Bettina Gray:

    When I was the youngest of many cousins and was always’it’ in ‘Hide and Seek’ the call in the dark “ally,ally, outs in free” was wonderful!

  24. Kayanna:

    My dog Is a boxer and we named him Ollie and his nick name is “Ollie Ollie oxen free”

  25. Larry:

    I grew up on the west coast during the 1950′s and we used to say ollie, ollie all in free, free, free. I guess it didn’t matter what you said or how you said it, we all meant the same thing.

  26. Dennis:

    This makes most sense and sounds very similar. ‘euch’ in german is pronounced ‘oik ‘ and ‘sind’ is ‘zind ‘ so combined they sound like ‘oikzin’ which sounds to me really close to ‘oxen’ with a boston accent.

  27. Melissa:

    I grew up in Australia in the 1970′s and we said this phrase also.
    My daughter who is 10 was saying it yesterday and the reason as to why I am on here reading it’s origin.
    I have really enjoyed reading all these comments, it makes me a little nostalgic.
    I wish the internet hadn’t replaced a lot of the great childhood games with apps.
    I am now going to try and teach my daughter the great outdoor games we played until dark in the beautiful Australian summers.

  28. Kitty:

    I’m 55 and the reason I’m even at this site was because I was researching Olly Olly Oxen Free as a title for a poem I’m writing.It seems many of us have similar but different memories but we all seem to have a fond remembrance of days gone by.

    Blessings! From a child at heart…

  29. Traci Foster:

    I am 51 and grew up in Arkansas and Texas and we used the phrase “Ollie Ollie oxen free”

  30. Marilee:

    I grew up in the sixties in California and we said Ollie Ollie oxen free at ten end of a game of hide and seek. There were sixty three children in the twenty houses on the block I lived on, so we always had a lot of kids to play with. I was looking up the phrase because I was going to use it in a post to my granddaughter whose little son is due today and is taking his time making his appearance. I don’t think it is necessarily sad that the children won’t live our lives, we didn’t sit around wishing we were living our parents’ or grandparents’ lives and they won’t bemoan the fact that they aren’t living ours. They will be just as nostalgist for their experiences twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, and sixty years from now as we are about ours.

  31. Jan:

    Just realized after 55 years that i had been saying this all wrong as a kid. I thought it was “Ollie Ollie infantry.” haha

  32. Phill:

    Jane Fonda says something similar to this in the movie Klute. When she meets Klute (Donald Sutherland) for the second time, she suddenly breaks off from talking to him, opens a door and shouts it out, finishing with the phrase – “I’ve got the gum drops!” Can anyone shed any light on this?

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