Gadabout and man-about-town Jay Vyas, a guy with too much time on his hands if ever there was one, did us all the questionable favor of doing some research on the origins of Rochambeau.

On Saturday last, he proudly presented me with the main fruit of his labors, a book entitled Children's Games in Street and Playground, by Iona and Peter Opie, which he got at the Palo Alto Public Library. (It was published in 1969 by the Oxford University Press, London. You could look it up).

I suggested that he type in some relevant sections and post them to rec.sport.disc, but he correctly pointed out that if he did so, everyone would believe it was true, whereas if I do so no one will know for sure, which makes it more interesting. Of course, he thinks he's tricked me into doing all his typing for him. In fact, if the choice is typing this stuff in or working, I'd rather...

Well, here are some excerpts:

...the players pair off and play against each other, either bringing their hands out from behind their backs, or dabbing them three times in front of them, and making the finger formation at the third dab, sychronizing their movements with three vocables such as 'ick, ack, ock.' The finger formations they present now have significance: the clenched fist represents 'stone', the flat hand 'paper', and the two extended fingers 'scissors'. ...if they produce different signs one of them inevitably wins since it is held that 'stone' blunts and thus beats 'scissors'; 'scissors' cut and thus conquer 'paper'; and 'paper' wraps round and thus triumphs over 'stone'.... This form of elimination often goes under the name of the sounds with which they synchronize thier movements, thus 'ching chang cholly' (South London), 'chu chin chow' (Enfield),..., 'ick ack ock' (Croydon),..., 'eee pas vous' (Lambeth), and 'stink stank stoller' (Brixton).

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As is well known 'Paper, Scissors, Stone', or 'Rock, Paper, Scissors', can also be a diversion between friends to while away the time and see who wins most often; and it is also the basis of the rather less friendly contest known as 'Stinging', which is described on p. 225 under Duels.

Children in London have a fixed idea that 'chinging up' is oriental, and for once a folk-theory may be correct. In Japan it is a commonplace for children to determine priorities, or settle disputes, by waving a closed hand in the air three times, while chanting the meaningless words 'Jan Ken Pon', and them making exactly the same finger formations that British children do, and with the same signification, 'hamasi' (scissors), 'kami' (paper), 'ishi' (stone), or in dialect 'choki, pa, gu'. Indeed, 'Jan Ken Pon' is so ordinary in Japan that even professors resort to it to decide...which of them shall drink the next drink at a draught... Likewise in the great ports of China, if not elsewhere, children and grown-ups alike resort to 'Chai Ken' to decide anything trivial, the decision (in Shanghai) usually being the best of three.

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Similarly in Indonesia, a traveller has told us of her astonishment at seeing children squatting in the shade playing the game she remembered from her childhood in a north London suburb (she knew it as 'Hic Haec Hoc', although in Indonesia the game is 'earwig, man, elephant', the earwig overcoming the elephant by crawling through his brain. [note: I ask you, could I make this stuff up? -Phil] In Abyssinia it appears they compete against each other with up to eight finger formations of different value; in Choa, for instance, they have needle, sword, scissors, hammer, the Emperor's razor, sea, altar, and sky (Jeux Abyssins, M. Graiule, 1935, p.189).

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Furthermore, judging by a scene in one of the tombs at Beni Hassan in Middle Egypt, it appears that finger-flashing games have been known in Egypt since about 2000 B.C.

I swear I did not make any of that stuff up. Really. No, really, it's all right there in the book, you can look it up.


OK, I know you're all dying to know about that reference to "Stinging", so here's what it says on p. 225:

In 'Stinging' the punishment befalls the player who is unlucky rather than unskillful, or so it seems to him, for he has failed to guess the other player's mind. The two contestants flash their fingers at each other, usually making one of the three finger formations... fingers clenched (stone), fingers flat out (paper), and two fingers stretched out and kept apart (scissors). In a number of places, however, for example, Edinburgh, Norwich, and Petersfield, they also make the signs 'rain', bunching their fingers and pointing them downwards, and 'fire', pointing their fingers upwards. 'Rain' puts out 'fire' and rusts 'scissors', while fire burns 'paper' and blackens 'stone'.... Whoever wins each time wets his first and second fingers by licking them, pulls back his opponent's sleeve, and smacks his bare wrist good and hard, an operation which is more painful than those who have not experienced it might imagine.

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OK, so have we resolved anything? Well, we still don't have an origin of "Rochambeau"...did it come from the Japanese "Jan Ken Pon"?

Perhaps. It's interesting that even in Japanese "Jan Ken Pon" are nonsense words; where did THEY come from?

BTW, for those of you still paying attention, there is no mention of what beats 'rain' in the game just discussed.

Finally, no, I do not know what symbols are used for earwig-man-elephant...but I'd like to find out!

--Phil Price