When I was a child on the American west coast, my circle of friends would always say "times!" to suspend play and talk out of character, or otherwise suspend the rules of a game. For example, if we were playing tag, one of us could say "times!" if we got hurt, and the game would stop for a moment.

I assumed that this was a ubiquitous thing, but I was surprised to see just not that neither Merriam-Webster nor Wiktionary documents this usage of the word.

Is this an oversight, or is this a really isolated usage?

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    It might have to do with "Time-out" as a word for taking a short break in sports, and could be a slang/colloquialism. However, I used it as a child, and so did my circle of friends, too. Curious what the background on this is.
    – psosuna
    Feb 5, 2019 at 19:07
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    I have never heard of this before. Feb 5, 2019 at 19:21
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    In Texas in the 1960s (and presumably afterward) it was common for kids to shout "Time!" as a short form of "Time out!" in a game such as tag or baseball so that the applicability of some special rule or some claimed exemption from the normal rules could be hashed out. I believe that "Time!" for "Time out!" is widespread in sports at all levels throughout North America. However, I have not heard "Times!" (plural) used in this sense anywhere I've lived, which includes (for the past 35 years) the San Francisco Bay Area.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 5, 2019 at 19:31
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    When I was a child in a suburb of London and we played in the road, anyone seeing a vehicle coming would shout “ROTTEN EGGS!, and we would all rush for the pavement (‘sidewalk’). I have no idea where it came from or who thought it up. Probably it was an example of private language.
    – Tuffy
    Feb 5, 2019 at 19:32
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    @Tuffy Northeast American here, and we used expressions like "last one out is a rotten egg." Suggests to me that your usage wasn't particularly localized.
    – user888379
    Feb 5, 2019 at 19:54

3 Answers 3


As reported (in a paper called "Terms used for children’s games", published in the 1996 Focus on the USA) by Luanne von Schneidemesser, based on results from a 1994 survey, for 296 informants ("younger people") responding to "In a game of tag, if a player wants to rest, what does he call out so that he can’t be tagged?" (DARE Question EE17),

Times was reported 20 times...times has spread as far west as Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Minnesota, as well as one response in Arizona.

[Text as found in Dictionary of American Regional English Online; paywalled.]

The simple exclamation 'times!' is one of several variants. DARE supposes the sense is probably "transf[erred] from time out a brief suspension of play in var[ious] organized sports (OED2 time out...)" (op. cit.).

Of the variants time(s), times out, and times ex (rare), DARE observes that ex in the equivalent phrase king's ex

is often assumed to be an abbr[eviation] for excuse, [but] it seems more likely that it, as well as (s)cruce(s) and crosses, refers to the act of crossing the fingers, often an essentail part of claiming a truce or time out.

[From the entry for "king's ex exclam, n", DARE (paywalled).]

In addition to DARE and von Schneidemesser's more 'scientific' data collection, commenters at this site (ELU) aver the use of the exclamation 'times!', sometimes accompanied by a 'T' hand gesture, in the children's game sense of "time out" in California (undated, and 1980s) and Nova Scotia (1990s), etc.

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    We yelled Time! or Time out! or I call time! in southeastern Pennsylvania, near the Twelve Mile Circle.
    – TimR
    Feb 5, 2019 at 21:51
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    As far west as Texas? As a Californian, I can say with absolute certainty it made its way all the way.
    – Anoplexian
    Feb 5, 2019 at 23:57
  • As a kid in the 90s, I said this in Nova Scotia, Canada. So I'd say it's likely fairly widespread. Feb 6, 2019 at 0:33
  • My elementary school friends and I in 1980s Southern California definitely called times to ask for a pause in play, accompanied with a T gesture with our hands to signify a time out, but without prejudice against time out!
    – choster
    Feb 6, 2019 at 1:03
  • I can confirm that it made its way to India (no I'm not missing an 'na') by 2000 Feb 6, 2019 at 11:35

The following is for AmE:

This DARE survey ( 20 years old! ) supports in AmE > time out > time > times. times out = 0.

1996 Focus USA: The picture has changed among the younger people questioned this year. Sixty-one percent of them [=of 296 total infs] responded with time out, almost twice the percentage of informants found by DARE; 20% said time. . . Times was reported 20 times, times out not at all. Time is no longer confined to mostly East Coast states, but has spread across the country, while times has spread as far west as Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Minnesota, as well as one response in Arizona.

Of course, the preponderance of the usage of this is amongst the younger crowd, but in the > 40 y.o. one frequently hears time out or time in various venues to suggest:

  • rest break
  • cease discussion
  • etc>>>

I have never heard times ... in work or play.


In Memphis, Tennessee, in the late 1950s we “called Times.”

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