Boggers and burneys: Childhood games in the DNE (part 1)

Children playing outside in St. Anthony. Reproduced by permission of the Maritime History Archive (PF-325.102), Memorial University.

Now the days are getting longer and the weather is slowly starting to climb out of the winter-worthy temperatures. Many of you have been stuck inside a lot over the past couple of dreary months and some of you have been stuck inside with children. While they can be the light of your life and they can bring you much joy, sometimes you just want them out of the house. Older generations typically criticize youngsters, or nointers, for their clothes, the music they listen to, the way they speak and the things they do. Everyone can recall a “Why, when I was your age…” story. One of the loudest criticisms of today’s youth is that all they do is sit around staring at computers, videogames and cell phones. This month Twig is focused on childhood games in the DNE. There are so many references to games in the DNE that this topic will be spread over several entries over the next year. If you have memories of games not mentioned here or know of new games that kids in Newfoundland and Labrador play, it would be great to hear from you.

Word-file for 'nointer' from 1964. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

First up is a game called tintacks. Tin is a pronunciation variant of ten. Citations for this game come from St. John’s, Twillingate and Sandy Cove. In this game, one person counts to ten really fast with their back turned while the other children run forward while the counting is done but they have to freeze before the counter turns around. If you are caught moving, then it’s back to the start line for you. There are a couple of variations on the game like the one on the card shown below.

'Tintacks' word-file from 1967. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

You might have heard of see-saw before, but what about weigh-de-buckedy or its variants buckety-board and wady bucked? DNE editors have traced these terms to Irish origins, coming from the words bacaideach (undulating) and bogadach (moving). If you can get a good piece of board or a longer and a rock or something similar as a fulcrum, then you’ve got hours of cheap and simple entertainment.

Word-file for 'wayedy buckedy' from Tilting in 1971."Wayedy-buckedy was enjoyed by young and older children. The difference in weight of children was balance by having two children on one end to one on the other, or adjusting the ladder or board as I have tried to illustrate in the". Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Tag is a pretty common kid’s game but another chasing game particular to Newfoundland, specifically Change Islands according to the citations, is catching thirds. You can see from the word-file below that there was a little confusion as to what this game actually entailed.

Word-file for 'catching thirds' from 1965. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Another game attested in the DNE is the game colours. Sometimes children were very creative with the colours they chose. According to one informant from St. John’s, duckedy-mud­ was a favorite colour chosen in this game.

Word-file for 'colours'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Most of you, young and old, will be familiar with marbles or alleys and there are many variations on how to play. If you play marbles in Newfoundland, then when two marbles are touching each other at rest, it’s called a burney. If players have to guess how many marbles are hidden in another player’s hand or bag, the game is chip-chip. Chip-chip is not restricted to marbles. You can guess how many men are aboard a ship or hide other objects and call this game by the same name.

Word-file for 'chip-chip' from St. John's in 1971. "When alley season began everyone tried to get as many alleys as possible. The seacon usually began as soon as snow went. In the nights everyone got on the one bed ( 4 to 6 children ) to play chip - chip.Each had his bag (special bags were made by mom) or sock of alleys (marbles)". One person Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

The DNE research collection holds numerous citations for cobby house and its variant spellings. Basically, the cobby house is any small house built by children but it can be anything from an actual building, a rock formation or even a rock outline on the ground. In this house, you could cobby or play copy.

Word-file for 'cobby house'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Another simplistic game is boggers, from the Irish bagar for ‘a threat’, where children perform daring feats in a competition to outdo one another. The person who is able to complete the act most successfully in the game of boggering has a bogger on the others.

Word-file for 'boggers'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

Parents are often terrified by the things their children are willing to do mostly because of the danger away from which youth turn their naïve eyes. One of these games that has claimed young lives and been featured on various newscasts throughout the years is copy, alternatively known as copying, gallygee (variant gallygolt) or steppycock. This is the game, if you can really call it a game, where children jump from one ice pan to the next trying to avoid falling into the icy ocean below the floes. As you might imagine, sealers also copy but they do it as part of the hunt, not as a game.

'Gally' word-file from Islington in 1971. " Running across thin ice causing it to buckle up and down in waves as the weight of the person is moved from one spot to another. This was done during late fall or early winter by boys between the ages of 10 and 16". Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

So once the spring weather arrives, or even before if you’re desperate for a break from the articles, give them the boot out the door after teaching them some of these games. Or better yet, dare them to be creative and come up with a new game of their own. If you’d like for us to look into a particular game you played as a child, drop us a line!

Word-file for 'article'. Reproduced by permission of the English Language Research Centre, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL.

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13 Responses to Boggers and burneys: Childhood games in the DNE (part 1)

  1. Gerard says:

    I think I know what is meant by “catching thirds”, as we played a similar game in Quebec. It’s a kind of tag. Everybody runs away from “it”, and runs to a safe spot where they can’t be tagged (I think we called them “houses” — you had to stand on something, or hold onto something, such as a small tree). But only a certain number of people can be “safe” at each house. If you’re the third (or fourth?) person to get to a house, you have to run to another one, and “it” tries to catch you when you’re between houses. Whoever’s caught is the new “it”, and everybody has to leave their house and run to another one. And on it goes. (Man, games are hard to explain!)

    • suzannepower says:

      Thanks for your explanation, Gerard. Games are pretty difficult to explain, it’s like technical writing. From the definition in the DNE, it seems that there’s someone “in the middle” who chases the thirds. Perhaps our thirds are like the unfortunate Quebecers who don’t make it to the “house”.

  2. Lorraine Jackson says:

    I recall the word “wadey-bucket”, but we used it differently. It was used for that two-seated swing – a long pole with a seat at either end – that began to appear on backyard swingsets in the 60s in St. John’s. The wooden plank with its central fulcrum was always called a see-saw in my circle.

    Re the game Colours – it’s vaguely familiar. But we called that drab colour “Muckity-Duck”

    • suzannepower says:

      Interesting, Lorraine. Thanks for your comment. It seems plausible that wadey-buckety may have been generalized to a two-seated play object in the case of your observed usage. I recall your “wadey-bucket” but can’t remember what we called it. The earliest citation in the DNE is from 1899, appearing in Maria English’s Only a Fisherman’s Daughter. Do you still use “muckity-duck”?

  3. Joe says:

    There’s pippy or tiddley (or tiddly) that I played as a kid living at various times in Burin, Port aux Basques and St. John’s. Two sticks, broomstick diameter, one long, one short – the shorter stick is laid across a small hole and flicked into the air using the long stick and then struck with it for distance while other players try to catch it. Variations included propping up the small stick on a rock or other object or across two rocks – likely when playing in areas too rocky to dig a hole.

    About 10 years ago I was flying on an Adria Airlines (Slovenia) flight and their in flight magazine had an article on a game played by men in a small Northern Italian town that sounded very much like it. Can’t remember what they called it in the story.
    A web search came across Italian, Indian, Spanish and Afrikaans games that also sound very similar.
    Lippa –
    Gilli Danda –
    kennetjie –
    Il Ciancol –
    A Billarda –

    BTW, I also spent time “copying” on Black Duck Cove, Burin.

    • suzannepower says:

      Thanks for your comments, Joe. The DNE does contain citations for “tiddly“, “piddly” and “pippy“. There are some drawings on the slips here at the ELRC. I plan to include all of these terms in the next entry on childhood games. I guess that sticks and rocks are widely available so they will be popular items in many childrens games world-wide. Thanks for the links, I’ll likely incorporate some of them in the next blog. Some of these games do seem very similar to the game you played as a child. Glad to hear you survived the copy pans!

  4. Edmund says:

    Thank you for another great bit of information on NL history and what folk did for fun. A few more games that were played include:

    “Babies” – where a group of kids lined up against the side of a house and one kid would throw a tennis ball up on a roof and call the name of one of those face in against the wall. The one with the name called would have to run out from the house, locate the ball coming off the roof and catch it. That was tough to do especially if there was a chimmney in the way. If he/she did catch the ball then it would continue until someone didn’t catch the ball and then that person would have to go to the wall of the house and all the other players would throw the ball at that person from 20 paces. If someone missed the target they too would have to go to the wall. It was a great game where hand eye co-ordination, accuracy, catching, agility and quickness were learned. Even the skilled players would bobble the ball and drop it so everyone basically went to the wall and the tennis ball sure hurt. Probablly would not get away with playing Babies these days.

    Another game, played mostly in male schools like St. Bon’s, St. Pat’s, Bishop Field etc. was “Knuckles”. That is where two opponents would face each other and hold both hands out in front in the form of a fist. The person going first, generally decided by drawing sticks, would try to hit the other player on the back of his hands with his knuckles. One would have to be very quick both to deliver and avoid the contact that most times hurt. When the first player missed, the other player would take their turn. The game generally created a large crowd and was also good for hand eye, quickness and as some would suggest, stupidity.

    “Conkers” was a great game that was played with a chestnut at the end of a string. A player’s chestnut would be rated on the number of years old it was and it got older and more important based on the number of games it won against other chestnuts and their age. Example: if your chestnut was new and in its first game and you beat my chestnut off my string and my chestnut was 23 years old from previous matches now your nut would be 24. There was great detail in climbing the local chestnut trees and getting the nuts out of the shell and then soaking the nut in vinegar to make it hard and brown. Precision putting a needle through the centre of the nut and securing the string was essential. The game always attracted lots of players of all ages and one with the oldest nut would be held in high esteeme in school but everyone would challenge for the opportunity to beat the champ.

    “Boxball” was a game played with a tennis ball on many streets of St. John’s. The best streets to play were places with the large turnaround circles because they had lots of room to set up the bases and there was little traffic. It was played with the same rules as baseball but you had to hit the ball with your fist. It was fun, inexpensive and all could play, including co-ed. Maybe you can research these games and report your findings in future twigs.

    PS; The CBC Labrador radio interview was very interesting and your explainations were very informanitive and professional. Keep up the good work.

    • suzannepower says:

      Thanks again, Edmund, for your thoughtful comments. The DNE collection does not contain any citations for ‘babies’. I wonder if there were other names throughout the province for similar games? In the late 80s and early 90s we played a somewhat similar game called ‘Red Ass/Arse’ which probably speaks for itself if you’ve ever been the one up against the wall. We also played ‘knuckles’. Sometimes these games are quite painful! The DNE collection does contain two citations for ‘conkers’. These word-files were withdrawn because the term is in widespread usage elsewhere. The Oxford English Dictionary contains citations for the game dating back to 1847 and provides evidence that the game was originally played with snail shells. You can read more about it by clicking here, although the definition is not nearly as thorough as yours. The Dictionary of American Regional English and the English Dialect Dictionary also contain citations for this game. I’ll make sure to include ‘conkers’ in a future entry. There are no citations for ‘boxball’ in the word-files. A Google search suggests the game is like another old game called Four Square (what my cohort called Square Ball) but this is not the same game you described. I wonder if the manner of ‘boxing’ the ball makes its meaning transparent and also if there were other names for this game. Great comments and I’m glad you enjoyed the CBC interview.
      Thanks for reading,


  5. Carl Robert Slaney says:

    The game of Piddly was known as Cat and Kitten by the children of St. Lawrence in the 1950s. The rules seem to be much the same as those for Piddly as well.

    • suzannepower says:

      Hi Carl! There are no citations for Cat and Kitten in the DNE research collection. Perhaps there should be! There are variations of the game, though, called cat, puss, puss and duck from Cow Head, Carbonear, Daniel’s Harbour, Fogo, Merasheen, and Terrenceville. Many of these citations were collected in the 70s. It seems possible that Cat and Kitten was an older name for the game. Thanks for this note. We’ll prepare a citation.


  6. Billy says:

    I remember the game puddly as pip pats, spent many hours in Lawn playing that game with our cousins, the Brockerville,s

    • suzannepower says:

      Thanks for the comment Billy. There are no entries for pip pats in the DNE collection. Perhaps we need to add it. I imagine there are many different terms for this game around the province.

  7. Shirley says:

    What about the game we played with a ball called ‘eenie clapsy whirl around the babsy…..’

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