Sunday, July 24, 2011

On the Ethics of Training an Ox

"But, my dear, my dear...."
Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882
unfinished painting
“What of the ox that loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the forest stray and vagrant beings?”

Poet: Kahlil Gibran 1883-1931
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Olly, Olly Oxen Free!

Perhaps the lad has found one of his father's oxen, and is now 
calling for the other one, who is hiding behind a bush, "Ollie! Ollie!"
Or, perhaps he has found this oxen so worthless he is calling out,
"All ye, All ye, oxen free! 
Artwork by
Dutch Artist Adriaen van de Velde 1636-1672
What does the children's game hide-and-seek have to do with oxen? Not very much it turns out. When playing hide-and-seek children often call out "Olly, Olly Oxen Free." That means that anyone who is still hidden can come out from hiding to regroup for a new game. There are two versions on the origin of the phrase that sound plausible. The first is English, "All ye, all ye outs-in free." There is a very similar phrase in German, "Alle, alle auch sind frei" that translates all, all are free also.

Kids, like the rest of us, often use words or phrases without understanding their true meaning. The hypothesis is that "outs-in" or "auch sind" got changed to "oxen" which is a word English speaking kids would be familiar with.

The game hide-and-seek is at least four centuries old according to one source. My guess is that it's as old as man and womankind. I'm pretty sure it even predates the use of oxen!

What's your take on a possible original meaning of the phrase Olly, Olly Oxen Free?
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