I asked the informant for a popular schoolyard game from his childhood, and this was his immediate response. Though I had played many a thumb war, his opening signature chant varied from mine.
Alright: thumb wars! Everyone used to do ‘em, and it starts off with the signature chant: “one, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war” as you move your thumb from left to right in opposition to your opponent’s. Sometimes, I don’t know if this is a thing out here, but we had “one, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war. five, six, seven, eight, you’re the thumb I really hate” um, I’m not sure if that’s a thing out here but we did that back home and then, you know, obviously you just like take your thumb and you try to push the other person’s thumb down as your hands are intertwined. It is cheating to move the elbow, um, it has to be all the thumb and yeah, the winner gets nothing, besides pride.
Thumb wars were very popular during my childhood, and so this recounting may not be the most valuable piece of lore, but I was intrigued by the variation in the classic introductory chant. While familiar with the first part — “one, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war,” in my experience, it is followed by “five, six, seven, eight, try to keep your thumbs straight.” Because my informant grew up in Wisconsin, I believe it may be a regional variance.