Old 08-28-2010, 04:50 PM
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King's X!

I just read 'king's x' in a story, and it's used as 'pax'. ('Pax' being an agreement between two people to call off hostilities, used often in the film Donavan's Reef.) I remember saying 'King's X!' when I was little, ISTR when I was being tickled. Thus, I remember it having the same meaning as saying 'Uncle!' Only, I also seem to remember it meaning 'time out'.

Does 'King's X' mean 'I surrender' (i.e., calling 'Uncle')? Or does it mean 'OK, let's stop arguing' (i.e., 'pax', as in the story I'm reading)? Or does it mean 'time out'? Or does it mean something else? I just don't remember, and google returns a band by that name rather than its meaning.
Old 08-28-2010, 05:28 PM
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Can't answer your question, but I wanted to say that I'll be humming "Shot Of Love" for the rest of the day.
Old 08-28-2010, 11:02 PM
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according to the word detective, who further refers to Iona and Peter Opie's "The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren."

As you've probably guessed by now, "King's X" is a phrase used by children among other children -- one of those special terms rarely used, and often entirely forgotten, by the time we become adults.

"King's X" is one of a class of children's phrases called "truce terms," commonly-agreed sayings that call a temporary halt to a game or contest when spoken. If, for example, you and I were playing tag, and a bee flew up my nose, I might well shout "King's X" right before I fainted. As the Opies point out, truce terms are perhaps the most important words in a child's vocabulary, yet have no real equivalents in adult speech. "Kings X," with variations such as "king's crosses," "crosses," "cruses" and the like, is found throughout the UK, along with other such "truce terms" as "barley," "skinch" and "fains" (which is apparently a mutation of "fend," meaning "to ward off").
Old 08-28-2010, 11:13 PM
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Dogman is one of the greatest albums ever. No point in debating it - not opinion, but fact.
Old 08-28-2010, 11:14 PM
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"King's X" is one of a class of children's phrases called "truce terms," commonly-agreed sayings that call a temporary halt to a game or contest when spoken.
So the 'time out' one, then. I thought it might mean 'Uncle', since ISTR using it when I was being tickled. But I also remember saying 'Uncle' in that situation, and as I said I remember it in the 'time out' sense too.

Thanks for finding that.

FWIW, I'd never hear of the band before looking for the childhood meaning. Still haven't heard any of their stuff.


Last edited by Johnny L.A.; 08-28-2010 at 11:16 PM.
Old 06-22-2011, 05:14 PM
Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: Los Angeles
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King's X, King's Mark, Sign of the King.

Hi all, I just stumbled on your forum during a google search on King's X. So this is my first post here, but it looks like very interesting place.

So... I'm a writer with a series of suspense/thrillers called "King's X," which, without going into detail about the books, owes a lot to what you guys are talking about.

I have done a considerable amount of research in this topic, so if I may be of assistance here...

Yes - to the post about "Truce Terms."

Yes - kids used to say it a lot. Not much if at all any more. It seemed to be dying out as a phrase by the 1950's.

Yes - it was/is a name for the symbol of crossing your fingers.

Yes - In those cases it was pretty close to saying "Time out" today. But there was also more to King's X than that.

On the playground, it was more like a an invocation of protection. Like saying "Not it!" right after someone else says "let's play tag."

Also, it involved a temporary suspension, not just of a game (as in "time out"), but of ALL rules in general. This is why a child holding his fingers crossed behind his back in the sign of the King's X meant that he was suddenly "free" to outright lie to whoever he was talking to - his friend, his teacher, even his Mom or Dad. Like he suddenly existed outside the rules. (the psychology of this is very odd when you think about it).

That last one is still in play today, but the crossed fingers no longer have a name in most cases.

Where does it come from?

This part is speculation on my part and plays a big part in my fiction, so don't take this to the bank. But I do think it makes a lot of sense:

"King's X" may very likely be slang for "King's Mark." That would be the royal seal, etched into a Signet Ring and used to seal letters, orders, etc., with the King's personal Mark (brand, logo). Anyone carrying a document with the King's Mark was thought of as suddenly existing under circumstances very similar to those kids on the play ground. He was free to go anywhere without any harm coming to him - behind enemy lines to deliver an important message to the opposition, for example. Today "diplomatic immunity" will even get you out of parking tickets or much worse.

It is also easy to imagine soldiers in less grand situations saying "King's X" to ask for parlay, safe passage, or to surrender. It is also easy to picture superstitious people invoking King's X as a charm against any number of things. Being under the King's protection might work on the Evil Eye, for example.

But, like I said, that's all speculation. But if true, it is pretty easy to see how it became a thing kids said on playgrounds in Europe and the US. And also why it may have slowly began to fade like monarchies themselves.

What we know for sure is that it is old. Either very old, or just pretty old. But old. It meant something to grownups before it became a code for kids. And remnants of it (the crossed fingers for sure) still remain.

Robert Frost wrote a poem called "U.S. 1946 King's X"

"Having invented a new Holocaust,/And been the first with it to win a war,/How they make haste to cry with fingers crossed,/King's X--no fairs to use it anymore!"

He's obviously referring to the atomic bomb, and imagining its makers wishing they could, rather childishly, use this magic charm to put the genie back in it's bottle so it could not be used again.

Consider that the genie of the lamp in the legends of Scheherazade in the "Arabian Nights" was actually sealed in that lamp with the Seal of King Solomon - literally the mark engraved on Solomon's own Signet Ring, ie, the King's Mark - and a pattern of meaning begins to develop and the whole thing starts to look, perhaps, ancient.

Anyway, like I said, a lot of that is speculation, but the first parts are certain.

Hope that helps.
Old 06-22-2011, 05:47 PM
Join Date: Jun 2003
Location: Tennessee
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I first heard and used "kings" or "king's" (never saw it in print back then) to mean "time out" in the typical game where action was involved and when you needed a stop to catch your breath or get the rules straight or just to take a break. Later in life (I'll guess early teens at the earliest) I heard older people saying "King's X" and just assumed that was the same thing.

I have the feeling it was replaced by a "hipper" term, but I have been unable to remember that replacement.
Old 06-22-2011, 05:50 PM
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Apropos of nothing, my sailboat was named King's X before we purchased her and renamed her to SeaBiscuit. I still haven't won any races, but at least we're not throwing in the towel, figuratively.
Old 06-22-2011, 05:56 PM
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Don't know anything about King's X, but Donovan's Reef is a great bad movie. It's got the Duke, Lee Marvin, Cesar Romero, and Mike Mazurki, great fights, plus cute kids who start jiving as soon as the Padre leaves the room.
Old 06-23-2011, 11:20 AM
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 41,546
I encountered "King's X" in one of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels. I'd never heard it before (or since, until now), but it was clear from context that it meant "time out". It seemed to me that the "X" might be related to "cross my heart and hope to die" (since you were promising not to break the truce). From the presence of the "king's", I thought that it might be British in origin, but I haven't encountered anything to confirm or deny that.

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