The Lore of the Playground, By Steve Roud

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The Independent Culture

After voluminous guides on British superstitions and customs, Steve Roud explores an equally arcane field where we all participated.

Emulating the "wonderful books" of Iona and Peter Opie, his playground odyssey includes an analysis of tig ("to get some theoretical handle... it is possible to postulate a 'pure' form of tig"), evocative skipping rhymes ("Jelly on a plate"), a history of conkers ("probably little more than 160 years old... the horse chestnut was not introduced until the late 16th century") and a robust debunking about Ring o'roses: "The plague origin is complete nonsense... Neither sneezing nor red marks were symptoms of the Great Plague." Playground lore is still vigorous today, says Roud, but "stops dead at 11."