give a thing, and take a thing, to wear the devil’s gold ring

A rhyme used by schoolchildren when someone gives something and then asks for it back. The principle is a very old one; cf. PLATO Philebus 19 E καθάπερ οἱ παῖδες, ὅτι τῶν ὀρθῶς δοθέντων ἀφαίρεσις οὐκ ἔστι, as with children, there is no taking away of what has been rightly given.

1571 J. BRIDGES Sermon at Paul’s Cross 29 Shal we make God to say the worde, and eate his worde? to giue a thing, and take a thing, little children say, This is the diuels goldring, not Gods gift.

1611 R. COTGRAVE Dict. French & English s.v. Retirer, To giue a thing and take a thing; to weare the diuells gold-ring.

1721 J. KELLY Scottish Proverbs 120 Give a Thing, and take a Thing, Is the ill Man’s Goud Ring. A Cant among Children, when they demand a Thing again, which they had bestowed.

1894 Notes & Queries 8th ser. VI. 155 Another saying among boys is—Give a thing and take a thing, To wear the devil’s gold ring.

1959 I. & P. OPIE Lore & Language of Schoolchildren viii. It is a cardinal rule amongst the young that a thing which has been given must not be asked for again... [Somerset] Give a thing, take a thing, Dirty man’s plaything... [Cheshire] Give a thing, take a thing, Never go to God again.


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