Tag Archives: schoolyard games

French Schoolyard Catch Riddle

The catch: being asked to spell J,T, and P, in a French accent

Context: The informant is currently studying at USC, but as a child, she attended a French/English bilingual school. She explained that as a child, other kids would tell her to spell out “J, T, and P” in a French accent. Doing so would result in the informant saying “jé, té, pé,” after which the kids would laugh, as they had tricked her into saying something that sounded like “j’ai pété”, which means “I farted” in French.

Analysis: This is very similar to a typical elementary school catch of asking someone to spell “icup” (resulting in saying something that sounded like “I see you pee”). In Jay Mechling’s chapter on Children’s Folklore from Elliott Oring’s Folk Groups and Folklore Genres, Mechling notes how the child’s body features greatly in children’s folklore, specifically bodily functions. This is an example of humor based on the taboo of bodily excretion; the joke is played on an outgroup and results in them saying that they have done something that other children find embarrassing or gross.

‘The Category Game’

My informant AL is my classmate from the ANTH 333 course offered at USC.

Game: ‘The Category Game’

Rules: A group will stand or sit in a circle and go one by one listing different items of a category. People are eliminated if they cannot name an item in time or if they repeat an item. During the game, the players usually clap along or otherwise keep rhythm.

AL: “Like you’re in a circle and someone throws out a name or, you had to, someone would say ‘dog breed’ and everyone would have to throw out a different dog breed…We would usually play these games on a bus going to somewhere or waiting in line for something. It was a waiting game not like ‘oh let’s all do this right now’. It wasn’t the main focus.”

Game example:

P1: Category–types of fish

P2: Bass

P3: Salmon

P4: Mackerel

P5: Snapper

P1: Catfish

P2: [eliminated]

P3: Trout

P4: Clownfish

P5: [eliminated]

P1: Mahi Mahi

P3: Bass [eliminated]


P5: Barracuda [winner]


I am also familiar with this game. It is a fun way to pass the time, particularly on a bus. It also showcases the areas of knowledge of the players through their familiarization with the different answers other players give. For example, two players could realize that they are both very interested in a particular type of dog or have watched the same television show. The ‘category game’ was, therefore, a good game to find potential friends based on shared interests and conveniently was often played during beginning-of-the-year school trips when new students often met each other. The game also plays off the common technique of simply listing things in a group to hold off boredom. For example, trying to name all European countries while at the DMV to keep your brain active.


Informant KS is a 19 year-old USC freshman from San Jose, California.


Knockout is a game in which there is a line of people and players try to knock other players out until there is only one player remaining, the winner. All players line up single file behind the free throw line, and the first two players in the line each receive a basketball. The first person in line will make a shot attempt to initiate the game, and it is the goal of the second person in line to knock the first person out by making a shot before the first person does. The first person must make a shot before the second player in order to remain safe. Upon doing so, the first person passes the ball to the person behind the second player in line, and thus the second player is now in danger of being knocked out. The player who makes a shot moves to the back of the line. The process continues until only two players remain, and in some variations, the line moves further to the three-point line where each player must make a shot. In some variations of the game, after the initial shot by the first player from the three-point line, each player must make two consecutive shots, rather than one, in order to be crowned the winner. A typical technique in knockout is for one player to hit the other player’s ball far away from the net in order to allow themself more time to score a basket. In some variations, if your ball is knocked away far enough, you are automatically eliminated.


KS: “I’ve played it in a variety of contexts. Generally, when there’s people and basketballs you’ll find people playing it. I’ve played it in middle school, in high school, and at various summer camps. When I played basketball in middle school, we sometimes did that at practice as a fun game to end the practice. It’s very versatile. It’s good at bringing people together. It’s definitely a common thing that people know about, and unlike the actual game of basketball which has very clearly defined rules, knockout can really be what you make of it.”


The game of knockout benefits from its simplicity in that it is a shared practice that unites teenagers and youth from different places. As a relatively simple game, knockout is a simple and effective way to help children stay in shape and have fun during structured and unstructured play time, as KS revealed. The nature of the game is hyper-competitive and fast-paced, as two players quickly attempt to secure their own safety or knock the other person out. For a country with a capitalist, individualist, and competitive culture such as the United States, this game presumably remains popular due to its alignment with cultural values such as individual achievement and ruthless competition. The element of knocking away one’s ball while playing adds on to the practice of ruthless competition, allowing children to rehearse concepts such as competition and individualism in a social setting which will likely remain with them as they transition into competitive academic and professional environments.

Down by the banks

The informant explained that this is a hand game or clapping game she used to play at summer camp in between activities with the other girls who were in her cabin. Her estimate for when people play it is ages 6-12. You learn it by playing and other children explain it to you. She also said that this game” slaps” and would totally play it today.

SD: The song is:

Down by the banks of the hanky panky

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to banky 

With an eeps opps soda pops

Hey mister lilypad went kerplops

So, you sit in a circle with a group of three or more typically and each person has their right hand on top of the person to their right’s left hang. So your left hand is under someone’s right hand and your right is on top of someone’s left. Then while you’re singing the song, every word, there’s a beat on every word, where you slap your right hand onto the person to your left’s left hand and you go in a circle until the song runs out and on the last beat kerplop, the person who is hitting is trying to slap the person to their left’s right hand and that person is trying to avoid getting slapped. If you get your hand slapped, you’re out, or if you try to hit the person’s hand but you miss because they’ve moved their hand out of the way, you’re out. And that keeps going until there are two people left. Then the last two people lock right hands and pull back and forth on the beat of the lyrics and at the end whoever pulls the other person toward them wins.

Context: This piece was collected during an in person conversation.

Thoughts: I was surprised when hearing the informant’s version of this clapping game because I played the same game with different lyrics. This is a common game I played in PE and at recess, taught by other children. So it is passed on from child to child through their community. It’s also clear that it exists in multiplicity and variation given that I grew up on the other side of the country and played it the same way, albeit with different lyrics. There also seems to be an oppositional issue that comes to play in children’s folklore as there is a male vs. female aspect of this game that changes; she said she played it with only girls, while I played with both genders.

Children’s Clapping Game: Candy on a Stick

Main Piece: 

“Candy on a stick that makes me sick, 

It makes my tummy go two-forty-six, 

Not because you’re dirty, not because you’re clean, 

Not because you kissed a boy behind a magazine. 

Hey boys do you wanna fight 

I see a guy with his pants on tight 

He can wibble he can wobble he can even do the splits, 

But I bet ya ten bucks that he can’t do this. 

Close your eyes and count to ten, and if you mess up start over again”


The informant used to perform this song as part of clapping game in pre-school and elementary school in Arizona. She described it as an activity kids would do while lining up, such as when they were leaving the playground. She interpreted it as a distraction and time-passer, as well as something you got the joy of passing on/teaching. This was a regular activity for her and her classmates that those in her circle all knew. This was one of a few clapping games, rather than the only one they played.


This recitation seems similar to other childhood clapping games such as “patty-cake”, but with different lyrics and rhythm. This clapping game also seems more based in gender than the clapping games I’m familiar with, which, though normally performed by young girls, did not stake boys so firmly as another entity. This may be an example of defiant/experimental lyrics in schoolchildren with its fighting, kissing, and tight pants. Jay Mechling explains that children tend to experiment with “inappropriate” lyrics as a way to rebel against the dominant adult figures and explore adult themes that they’re marginally aware of safely. This activity seems to be a definitively gendered form of adolescent expression. The purpose would be to explore kissing, fighting, and tight pants in a low-stakes context. For another version of this game, see Tucker, Elizabeth. “Children’s Folklore: A Handbook.” United States: ABC-CLIO, 2008. 18.