NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XVI, No. 2, Summer, 1960
COUNTING-OUT CUSTOMS OF
THE term “counting-out,” naming and describing the process
and devices by which children decide—by selection
or elimination—a player for a specific part in a game, may
now belong or soon belong only to archeologists. The title of this
article is a misnomer, a concession to academicians; for, actually,
during my ten months association with Australian children, I
heard no child use the term or show any knowledge of it. Australian
grandparents with whom I talked and exchanged letters
were familiar with the term, but their grandchildren apparently
had no general name for the practice. “Tell me a counting-out
rhyme,” I would say to a child, only to receive a blank stare. Yet
when I began chanting, “One potato, two potato,” he chanted
with me and continued chanting. “One potato,” not “counting-out,”
was the magic key that unlocked a door of understanding
The terminology for the “It” (or “He”) position in children’s
games “Down Under” varied from state to state and from community
to community I observed. In fact, the word “It” was rarely heard. The most prevalent word in all the states was “He” (You
must go He). In one Sydney (New South Wales) community the
favorite word was “IN” (You must go IN). In St. Helens, Tasmania,
the general word was “Master”; although in other parts
of Tasmania “Master” named a specific position in a specific game,
I heard “It” not once in the whole of Victoria; only occasionally
in Tasmania, New South Wales, and South Australia; more often
in Queensland and Western Australia than elsewhere, but never
superceding “He” in popularity.....
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