rock, paper, scissors and scissors, paper, stone

Keeping with the game theme I started last time...

Over on the American Dialect Society e-mail list, a conversation has come up about that hand-shape game in which a fist beats a 'V' sign, a flat hand beats a fist, and a 'V' sign beats a flat hand. You, of course, know what I mean (having read the title), but it's called a lot of different things. The original query on the ADS list wondered about American variations on the name. Most Americans call it Rock, Paper, Scissors, but some call it Rock, Scissors, Paper. (We also discovered that it's also called Roshambo or Rochambeau and one Missourian grew up calling it by its Japanese name, Jan Ken Pon. Apparently, in China and Japan it involves cloth, rather than paper.)

The most common BrE name for this game is Paper, Scissors, Stone. An Australian on the web says that (s)he's always known it as Paper, Scissors, Rock.

As with almost any game, there is a world association and world championships. I note that it's called the World RPS Society--using the American order. They say:
One of the mandates of the World RPS Society is name harmonization, so we would encourage all players to use the term Rock Paper Scissors or its short form RPS. We feel that this is the best way of helping the sport to grow in the future.
North American linguistic imperialism at work? Here's the (apparently fictional--see comments) story from their website:
The Paper Scissors Stone Club was founded in London, England in 1842 immediately following the issuance of the1842 law declaring “any decision reached by the use of the process known as Paper Scissors Stone between two gentleman acting in good faith shall constitute a binding contract. Agreements reached in this manner are subject to all relevant contract and tort law.” The law was seen as a slap in the face to the growing number of enthusiasts who played it strictly as a recreational activity, since for many constables it was taken to mean that the game could not be played simply for sport. The club was founded and officially registered to provide an environment free from the long arm of the law where enthusiasts could come together and play for honour.
[...] In 1918, the name was changed to World RPS Club in to reflect the growing International representation. At roughly the same time the Club moved its headquarters from London to its present location at Trinity Plaza in Toronto, Canada. Despite the allied victory, the official reason for the move was “England is far too dangerous a place to make a suitable home country for a game of conflict resolution.” Canada was seen as an excellent choice since it was seen as a “safe, hospitable and utterly inoffensive nation, a part of the commonwealth, yet not inhabited by the descendants of criminals.”
In 1925 when the club briefly reached over 10,000 members, the name was changed again to The World RPS Society. The Steering Committee felt that since the membership had reached a new order of magnitude the term club was seen to be “inappropriate, misleading, and mocking.”
These are people who feel strongly about words, as well as about their game!

According to the website (very nice photos!), Norway is in the midst of its national championship, and there it's called Stein, Saks, Papir ('stone, scissors, paper'). Apparently, they've not been bullied into calling it Stein, Papir, Saks.


  1. When I played this game at Infant School (UK), it was known as Siz, Pap, Brick. I have to confess that I had no idea what the three words meant (I wasn't even sure whether the third one was brick or prick), though I guess I can work it out now.

    I don't believe a word of the story from the RPS website; certainly the "1842 law" would appear to be a complete fiction. Such a law would be totally superfluous. My understanding of English contract law (those with more legal expertise will correct me if I'm wrong) is that it derives from common law rather than statute. The following is from

    "Contracts which are not deeds are known as simple contracts. They are informal contracts and may be made in any way – in writing, orally or they may be implied from conduct."

    In other words, as common law holds that a contract may be implied from conduct, there is no need for statute law to specify a particular form of conduct (Paper Scissors Stone) as being capable of creating a contract.

  2. Hm, maybe you should post this to their website and see what they say...

  3. The story from the WRPSS is definitely not true. The organis(z)ation was founded in 1995 as a semi-joke, and the whole 1842 backstory is part of an elaborately constructed series of fictions, semi-fiction and facts, making it almost impossible to identify what's really true about the history. It can be compared with kayfabe in professional wrestling (

    What's not disputed is that there are genuine examples of SPS/RPS being used to settle serious matters. Most famously a multi-million pound/dollar decision as to whether Sotheby or Christies should auction a collection of art was settle by the game (

  4. Thanks Simon, I'm changing my post to be less misleading on the matter.

  5. 'Rochambeau'?

    That ain't scissors paper rock (I hvae to add my prefered order to the list of permutations thus far). That was a game from South Park in which the contestants would kick each other as hard as possible where it mattered most. The loser was the one to opt out first (I prefer this story anyway). It was also a corresponding verb "I'll rochambeau you for it".

    Does anyone else call 'Tic tac toe' 'noughts and crosses'? I have no idea if the latter is BrE at all or just AusE (probably BrE), but I'm almost certain the former is AmE.

    Nice blog by the way. I found you today through

  6. There are a bunch of games called rochambeau, some of which involve the infliction of pain. I think I remember that Wikipedia covers it well (or somebody does), but I CBATG.

    Welcome to SbaCL, aidhoss!

  7. Thanks!
    I'd have chosen the name 'Hoss' for these comments as it's my usual handle, but someone (possibly someone called Hoss) appears to have beaten me to it.

  8. A safe, hospitable and utterly inoffensive nation, a part of the commonwealth, yet not inhabited by the descendants of criminals... yes, that's us! (hilarious)

    I guess England was not safe, the US was offensive ;) and not part of the Commonwealth, and Australia was settled by criminals...

  9. I can confirm that in Manchester, England it was also called Siz, Pap,Brick. It also had a verb, to siz, e.g. you two had better siz for it.

    BrEng also uses Naughts and Crosses and not Tic Tac Toe. Tic Tac Toe I first came across was in the film WarGames with Matthew Broderick. The BrEng name for the game sound infinitely more logical.

  10. I know I'm about 2 years late on this one, but I feel like adding my two bits anyway. (Arizona, USA)

    I grew up calling the game "Paper, Rock, Scissors" (an order which, I believe, has not been mentioned yet). However, most other people I know say it in RPS order.

    "Rochambeau" had been used in other forms before the guys of South Park created their infamous version of the game =)

    Also, I say Tic-Tac-Toe because that is what I grew up with. I've heard "naughts and crosses" before, but it was when I was quite young, and mistakenly interpreted it as "knots and crosses" (which, I suppose, still makes more sense than tic-tac-toe). One thing is certain, the AusE/BrE name is a lot easier to type than the AmE one.

  11. Scissors, Paper, Rock is the ONLY AusE name for this that Ive ever heard, in multiple Australian states.

    And yes, i know Tic-Tac-Toe as noughts and crosses

  12. Also as a BrE speaker I've only ever heard Rock, Paper, Scissors, although I'm more midlands based

  13. Isn't tic tac toe where you only make the first three noughts and crosses moves each, with moveable pieces, and then move your pieces in turn only horizontally , then vertically until someone gets a line?

  14. I've never heard of such a thing. In AmE, tic-tac-toe is just the normal name for what 'noughts and crosses' is in BrE.

  15. That moveable pieces game might be Nine Men's Morris.

  16. In 1970's south Manchester UK we called it Siz Pap Brick too, and confirm what Tim says re verb to Siz. "Siz Up" / "Let's Siz for it"...

  17. I don't know why but I've always said Paper Rock Scissors. I have yet to see any say they do as well. Maybe I do it because honestly, if you say it, (just say it... PRS) it flows off the tongue so much smoother, no? The ending "r" connects so fluidly with the "R" in Rock. Paperrrock Scissors. I doubt I'll break anyone's long usage. Even all folks in my neck of middle AmE say RPS. I try to "correct" kids to my way to no avail.

  18. I played as a child and still now with my kids. I always said scis,saz,brick haven't a clue why. Does anyone else knows this version. I am in the north west of england,Manchester,UK but have Irish heritage..... if that helps anyone.

  19. Lynne. I have a question about the word scissors that I'm hoping you can answer. If I say, 'Do you have any scissors?" to my (American) husband, he will say, 'Yes, I have one.' To me (a Brit) the answer should be 'Yes, I have some.' Is this just a New York thing and are both answers generally acceptable in the US?

    1. It might not even be a New York thing. Maybe it's just a your-husband thing! ;) I'm from upstate, and I'd say 'some'.

  20. From Texas, lived in NYC from 2000-2015. “A scissors” is something you see on arts and crafts shows on TV. It drives me crazy, plus unlike “the pant,” which you sometimes see on shows about fashion, “scissors” is not made singular. You wouldn’t say “a shears,” “a glasses,” “an underwear,” “a socks, “a pliers,” “a tongs,” or even “a pants,” so why “a scissors?”

    1. In NW London(Neasden. 1939-1976) it was always a "Pair" of scissors or just 'the scissors'
      Similarly, as an engineer it has always been a 'pair' of Tin Snips likewise for Shears,pliers and tongs as per Jeff, above
      Re PSR or whatever!!?? thie presenting of the hand in this game was always preceeded by the chant "Hic Haeck Hoc". And thus that was the "name of the game!" as far as I knew then, and will probably continue to so do
      Hic Haek Hoc was an aid to the learning of Latin ( maybe the Roman Legions brought it to Britain in 52 BC ..??
      It was always Noughts and Crosses
      Whar about 'Scrumping'??

      LenT (NZ since 1976)


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)