Wednesday, 11 November 2009

calling a barley truce in a game

When my dog jumps onto her green mat during a game of chase-her-to-get-the-ball, it's called barley, which in our family means a truce and no-one can grab the ball from her.

I got to wondering whether other families use the expression 'barley' in this sense, and found it's not widely used.

The Virtual Linguist is collecting examples of the use of this and similar words. A Wikipedia article refers to the use of this term, with variants, in Australia.

It said
Peter Opie, who in 1959 conducted the most extensive study on the subject to date, considered the truce term to be the most important word in a schoolchild's vocabulary and one for which there was no adult equivalent...However, research into early recorded use of these terms found examples of some of these terms being used as a sign of surrender in battle or adult fights or quarrels as late as the 18th century.
It seems to me the phrase will stay in an adult's vocabulary if the adult continues to play, in the kind of innocent way children play - and, of course, that's what pet dogs teach us to do.

The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren,by Iona and Peter Opie, was published in 1959, with an introduction by Marina Warner that says, in part
In the chapter called “Code of Oral Legislation,” they give a truly mind-boggling list of over fifty “truce terms,” including variations on “barlay,” “crosses,” and “squits,” by which children “obtain respite” from one another during a fight or other kind of struggle; a gloss provided by J. R. R. Tolkien himself connects “Fains” (pronounced “Veins” at my convent school in the Sixties)
with Old French se feindre, and he is able to use it to throw light on a crux in Chaucer, making the term five hundred years old. It must be said that the beautiful “distribution maps”—no less than six in this chapter alone, here illustrating truce terms’ usage—add considerably to the impact of the data; with something of the quality of a handdrawn treasure map in an adventure story, they reach a high-water mark that published scholarship in this field will probably never attain again.

I notice the word is spelled barlay in the Opie book.

I think I'll look for a copy of the book, after reading a review of it by Kenneth Rexroth (written in 1960).


Papillon Bleu said...

Oh...I am so confused ...the only barley I know in English is a cereal...I have so much to learn.

To change subject, I think I am going to publish something about scales very soon.

A bientôt!

parlance said...

I'd love to read about scales on your blog, Papillon Bleu. (I'm very interested in the scales that are used in Europe.)

parlance said...

I forgot to ask you something.

If you were playing a game with friends in childhood, in France, did you have a word to tell the others you needed to leave the game for a moment? For instance, you might have needed to go to the toilet, or to tie up your shoelaces, or to rest for a couple of moments.

Papillon Bleu said...

Oh yes!
We used to say "pouce!"when I was little and we had to put both thumbs up.I don't know if the children in France still use this expression

parlance said...

Papillon bleu, thanks for that information! When I looked at the Wikipedia article again, I saw the author mentioned the word 'pouce'.

I'm grateful for your help.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

parlance said...

Hey, thanks for the encouragement, Anonymous! You must be some sort of good fairy who goes around the virtual world giving hope to us poor old bloggers who have hardly any readers!