In British private schools children shout "Quis?" and the person to shout "Ego!" in reply first gets whatever was on offer. The Latin derivation is clear but I have two questions.

First, when did this practice start?

Second, there is an extension where the respondent shouts something that sounds similar to "ego de to my liking". This means that the child will accept the gift if they like it. This is to prevent the first child from giving a rotten egg or black eye or similar. When did this first appear?

  • We did it in the 1950s. (That was in a Grammar School, not in the independent sector). It is an example of the way that grammar-school education tended to reinforce the traditional social-class system in Britain after the war, by giving children who had passed the 11+ examination a different cultural experience to their peers who went to Secondary Modern schools. – WS2 Feb 9 '14 at 11:07
  • @WS2 Did you have a version that allowed you to refuse the item too? – felix Feb 9 '14 at 14:19
  • @felix I don't remember one. – WS2 Feb 9 '14 at 14:33
  • 1
    At Christ's Hospital in the 1990's we use 'quis' and 'ego' - we also used 'ego D' so we could decline the thing on offer, but I have no idea what the D actually meant or if it was short for something else.. Or even how to spell it, it just sounded like a capital D! – user197357 Sep 21 '16 at 9:45
  • The reply to quis? if you did NOT want the item offered was Fains! This also became a verb as in "I fains the hard boiled egg" – Fido Morgan Sep 24 '17 at 11:24

The OED’s earliest citation for this use is from Edith Nesbitt’s ‘The Story of the Treasure Seekers’ in 1899:

‘Any one who likes can have the bottle. Quis?’ And Alice got out ‘Ego’ before the rest of us.

In their classic work ‘Lore and Language of Schoolchildren’, published in 1959, Iona and Peter Opie describe the practice as follows:

In private schools a child who wishes to dispose of something . . . calling out ‘Quis?’ and the boy or girl who first replies ‘Ego’ receives the object and may say (to the horror of the classicist) ‘I egoed it’.

I have no information on the use of ego de to my liking.

  • And the Opies give a number of words to refuse a gift, or an obligation: "Fains" is one, with handspell "F" – Hugh May 1 '17 at 12:25

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