Losing Your Marbles?

Well, you better find them because it is “National Knuckles Down Month!” This phrase was commonly used to describe the process of getting busy and doing something productive in the business world. Quite simply, the term is used in the game of Marbles.  When getting ready to “shoot” the marble, you turn your hand palm up with all of your knuckles (except for your thumb) touching the ground.  Place the marble between your index finger and thumbnail and flick it.

The history of this game can be traced back to many proto-Indo-European cultures. Marbles became popular when their production was industrialized in the mid 1800s. Traditional marble games are played around a circle. In fact, at the National Marbles Tournament held every year in Wildwood, New Jersey over 1200 marbles games will be played around large circles in a park. The game played around these circles is called ringer.

Marbles is a great game because you can play it anywhere. All you need is a flat place to play, such as a sidewalk, floor, table, or rug. The surface you play on will affect your game because a smooth surface will make marbles roll far and fast. Playing on a rough surface like a baseball infield will make the marble bounce off course. If you will draw a circle for your game, you can use chalk or string. Chalk works best for outdoors because it washes off. If you are playing in the dirt, you can just draw a line with a stick. It is important to agree on the rules when you play marbles, so nobody accuses you of cheating. If you want to “play for keeps”, then you should talk about it at first and agree that the winner gets to keep some marbles. Playing keepsies is fun until you lose your favorite marble! Keepsies – you keep marbles that you win. Friendlies – you get all of your marbles back at the end of the game. Any kid who ever had a collection of marbles has favorite marbles. If you are willing to risk your marbles in a game of keepsies, you had better either be a good shooter, or be a good sport.

There is a specific set of words used by players to describe many aspects of this game. They are  recorded in, “The Vocabulary of Marble Playing” The American Dialect Society, 1955. Kids (and adults) who play marbles learn and share many of these special words. Listed here are just a few:

Aggie (cat’s eye)an agate marble that looks like a cat’s eye

Back to taw – when a player needs to return to where he shot last

Bombing or bombies – dropping your marble onto another marble.

Clears, clearies -a call that gives permission to clear obstacles from the ground before the defensive marble

Downsies -a call demanding that the shooter keep his knuckles on the ground when shooting

Earnest – a game in which players keep the marbles they knock from the ring

For fair, or fairsies –rules of playing in which each player gets back his or her marbles at the end of the game.

Lacky –last in order of shooting

Mibster –a marble player.

pee wee –a small marble, not always round

Shooter –the marble you shoot with. it may be slightly larger than a regular marble. some players have favorite or lucky shooters.

Snooger –term used in ringer to describe a target marble that is near the rim of the ring

Smug –to grab all the marbles and run when some action might break up the game

Marble playing used to be common for school aged children. You can grab your favorite shooter, knuckle down and become an expert Mibster. Where ever you play, keep track of your marbles and have fun!