Children's games seem pretty innocent. Tag is a simple game of chase, while pastimes like hopscotch and jump rope teach cooperation and teamwork. Children all over the world are encouraged to play in order to make new friends, develop their brains, and enjoy some exercise.
But there are secret dark sides to many of these recess activities. Some childhood games with creepy origins have been enjoyed for centuries, while the true meanings behind them have been lost or conveniently forgotten. Is ring around the rosie about the plague? Probably, and it's not the only childhood game that references the deadly illness. As for blind man's bluff, it was likely invented as an easy excuse for some light flirtation. Read on to discover more weird game facts, from the hidden, not-so-innocent meanings of nursery rhymes to the military background of hoop rolling.
The Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, swept Europe in the mid-1300s. It was likely spread by fleas that lived on merchant ship rats. During this time period, medicine was practiced based on the four humors (black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm), and people believed that certain practices, like filling their shirt pockets with flowers, would keep them from catching the plague. The phrase "pocket full of posies" references this.
The rest of the nursery rhyme deals with the plague itself and the aftermath of it. The "ring around the rosie" references the red skin pustules that are a symptom of the plague. "Ashes, ashes" refers to the sneezing and wheezing noises made by the victims, and of course, the "all fall down" line refers to the massive death toll of the disease.
"Goosey Goosey Gander" is a British nursery rhyme with some very disturbing connotations. To begin with, the word "goose" is British slang for "prostitute." This puts the "in my lady's chamber" line into a completely new context.
Other parts of the rhyme refer to the persecution of Catholic priests under the regime of Henry VIII. Some houses had hidden cupboards known as priest holes, where priests would hide from the authorities. If they were caught, they would be beaten up and removed from the house, or, as the nursery rhyme goes, "so I took him by his left leg/and threw him down the stairs."
Cooties aren't necessarily part of a game, although they could be included in tag - the one who's "it" also has "cooties." In most cases, cooties are something that kids claim is contagious and transmitted from a boy to a girl (or vice versa) via touch. Though these bugs are imaginary, cooties likely existed. The word "kutu" is found in the Malayasian and Maori languages, and refers to a parasitic biting insect that's similar to lice.
Nine Men's Morris is a board game that very similar to checkers. It's played by both children and adults, and is more popular in Europe than the United States. However, it has creepy origins that date back to 1400 BCE. The Nine Men's Morris board consists of three nested squares, each one smaller than the other, and several lines that intersect with each square. Together, they form something called a Morris Square, which was a sacred symbol to the ancient Celtic peoples. The center square meant regeneration, and the four lines emanating from it referred to the four winds, four cardinal directions, and four elements.