This page will hopefully be a growing explanation of the source of old sayings like "the whole kit & kaboodle", "land sakes", "what the Sam Hill", "Heaven's to Betsy", "deader than a doornail", etc.
Some of these can be found by searching www.google.com (e.g. "cliche origin"), or try www.phrases.org.uk.
10/15/05: A great source - the book "The Facts On File Dictionary Of Clichés", by Cristine Ammer, published by Checkmark Books.
Heaven's to BetsyA version of "For Heaven's Sake" that comes from nineteenth-century America and first appeared in print in 1892.
Olly olly oxen freeEver since I was a kid I have wondered where the hide-and-go-seek phrase "olly olly oxen free" (or "ocean free") came from.
But first, here is an email I got 7/8/2007 from David Eyerly:
It was common for the town crier to pre-phrase a declaration with “All Ye, All ye” meaning that all the citizens of the town needed to be aware of the information the crier was about to state. Typically the town crier would yell this as a pre-amble to a message from a King, or court, or other high official. The townsfolk would gather to hear the pronouncement (it was rarely an announcement!) Circa 1600, England. This migrated to 1650 Penn settlements.
“Outs” were those not yet “in”. (Those un-caught in a childs game.)
That they were able to come (to the town square, or base) without penalty was the pronouncement. “Free.”
Thus, “All ye! All ye! Outs in free.” Which the Dutch children in
Pennsylvania then corrupted to the best English they knew. Over the years
the phrase you mentioned became meaningless, except that the concept
remained the same. The “outs” were now “in free.”
Using www.google.com to search, the best web page I've found on this is www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/4/messages/992.html, as follows:
Lots and lots of theories from lots and lots of sites. Most from Jesse at Random House:
1. The phrase is used in a variety of children's chasing games, especially
hide-and-(go-)seek. The rough form of this game is that a player (called
"it") gives other players a chance to hide, and then tries to find them.
When "it" finds the first hider, he calls out some phrase indicating that
the other players are "safe" to return "home," at which point the person
"it" found will succeed him as "it."
2. One guess is that the original was something like "all in free" for "all
who are out can come in free", to indicate that the person who is "it" in the
game of hide-and-seek has caught somebody to become the new "it", and so
everybody else can come out of hiding without the risk of being caught.
3. Its root seems to be an English-Norman French-Dutch/German concoction:
"Alles, Alles, in kommen frei"or "Oyez, oyez, in kommen frei!"