I am curious as to when the game “Duck, Duck, Goose” moved from Sweden to America. Many of my friends whose parents are 65-80 years old never played the game and only heard of it because their children, us, played it. We are all 40-50 years old. Curious if any certain immigration from Sweden to Minnesota happened in the late 70s that may have influenced the migration of the game throughout the USA?

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    Is there evidence that this game originated in Sweden? You seem to state it as fact, but similar games with different names have been played in other countries for a long time, definitely before the period you're talking about.
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 4:04
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    Note that "Duck, Duck, Goose" is not played in Minnesota. In Minnesota, everyone I know grew up playing "Duck, Duck, Gray Duck". (I only bring this up because the question seems to assume that "Duck, Duck, Goose" took root in Minnesota, then spread from there to the rest of the US, but, if that were the case, it would have been the "Gray Duck" variant which spread from Minnesota, not the "Goose" variant.) Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 13:02
  • @DaveSherohman Interesting. If "gray duck" is an alternate term for the "goose", and if it has also been popular in Scandinavia for a long time, the idea may have been related to Hans Christian Anderson's story "The Ugly Duckling". Just conjecture.
    – aschepler
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 13:36
  • @aschepler - As a Minnesota native now living in Sweden, I don't actually know the names used in Scandinavian nations, so I did a little searching and, although I still don't really know the answer to that question, I found this article which mentions The Ugly Duckling as a possible origin for the "Gray Duck" variant: kindadifferent.net/wp/index.php/2017/12/24/duck-duck-which Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 13:46
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    Related: Where did “duck, duck, gray duck” come from? english.stackexchange.com/questions/133010/…
    – user121863
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 18:47

1 Answer 1


A search of the Hathi Trust database turns up instances of the game under that name going back at least to 1922. From anonymous, "Springfield, Illinois, Course of Study with Suggestive Method for the Primary Grades, Prepared by the Primary Teachers of the Springfield, Illinois, Public Schools, Under the Direction of the Primary Supervisor, M. Ethel Brown, PH.B." (August 1922):

Duck, Duck Goose: All close eyes, one child runs around tapping others on head saying Duck, Duck, Goose. The one touched at word, "Goose" runs after the one who touched and must catch her before she reaches her seat.

If child is caught she stands aside and later is required to do some stunt by way of forfeit.

From Norma Schwendener, "Game Preferences of 10,000 Fourth Grade Children" (1932):

Games Learned Out of School Mentioned by 10,000 Fourth Grade Children Given with Frequency of Appearance

... Duck, Duck, Goose [Frequency of Appearance:] 6

Schwenderer reports that the data for her report came from school districts in Springfield, Massachusetts; Toledo, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

From Bertha Schools, "The Organized Recess for Character," in The Journal of Health and Physical Education (April 1937):

Years of experience have taught us that certain games are more popular at recess time than others. Since we stress a minimum of teacher supervision at this time, games that are easily controlled by the squad leaders are chosen. The following lists for the grades have proved the most popular:

First Grade[:] Farmer in the Dell[;] Cat and Rat; Duck, Duck, Goose[;] Crossing the Brook[;] Square Hopscotch

Ms. Schools was assistant supervisor of physical education in Baltimore, Maryland.

Hathi Trust reports two other probably relevant early matches for "duck duck goose"—in "Physical Education Activities for High School Girls by the Staff of the Department of physical education for women, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan" (1928) and Edna Wilcox, "A Manual of Speech Training for All Children in the Early Elementary Grades" (1928)—but neither of these titles is viewable at Hathi Trust's site.

In any event, it appears that the game "Duck Duck Goose" was known by that name in U.S. locations as varied as Illinois, Michigan, and Maryland in the period from 1922 to 1937. There is no indication in the early sources that I could look at directly as to where the name—or the game—originated.

The only early instance of the game that comes up in an Elephind newspaper database search is from "Program Is Prepared for Achievement Day," in the Saline [Michigan] Observer (May 2, 1929):

Primary children's program—Brownies, and fairies, circle relay, cat and mice, beater-go-round, a plain running relay, posture tag, tag tag, hull in the ring, back to back tag, London bridge, farmer in the dell, “Duck, Duck, Goose,” and other games.

And finally a snippet match in a Google Books search turns up this note from "Publication of the American Dialect Society" (1944):

duck duck goose n - chiefly Inland Nth (MAP)

The reference here is evidently to the "Inland North"—a description that fits Michigan and nearby states (Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, for example) quite well. Unfortunately, there is no context for the entry for "duck duck goose" cited in this publication.

The meager early evidence that I've been able to uncover suggests that "duck duck goose" may have originated under that name in Michigan or a nearby state in the early twentieth century, spreading to other areas (including Maryland, which is far to the east) by the late 1930s. I haven't found any history of the game that specifies its place of origin, however.

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