“Euax!” shouts Appia as she taps the shoulder of Hadrianus. “Non sum!” Hadrianus screams, running away. Just then, Gallus emerges from his tent to tell the kids to pipe it down and play something quieter. The children ignore their uncle and continue to bicker over who is “it”…
Such is how a game of ‘tag’ would probably have been played in ancient Rome. (Assuming my Google-powered Latin translations are accurate.) For chasing games are some of the oldest games still played in today’s playgrounds. We all know the rules: one person is ‘it’, who must chase the other children and ‘tag’ them by touching them. The ‘tagged’ child then becomes ‘it’ and so must take their turn in chasing the other children.
The game has had various names and variations throughout history. In ancient Greece, for example, kids played ostrakinda – a version of “tag” similar to dodgeball. In today’s English, however, the chasing game is called “tag” or “tig”; neither name is more correct as both originate from the Anglo-Saxon words for touch or strike.
Unsurprisingly enough, which name you go for correlates pretty strongly with where you grew up: in the UK, northerners are more likely to call the game ‘tig’, while southerners will call it ‘tag’. There are actually dozens of weird and wonderful names for the game used in different regions of the UK (including “tip” in North Wales, “tuggy” in Newcastle and “dobby” in Nottingham).
American children are a lot less creative with their game naming, with “tag” used pretty much unanimously across the 50 states.
Interestingly, Gorillas also play tag. So when the children’s game really does get out of hand, you can justifiably tell them that they’re behaving like little monkeys*.
*Gorillas are actually apes, but the kids won’t know that.
Answer by Dr. Stu