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Friday, June 15, 2007

Rock, Paper, Revolutionary

posted by on June 15 at 15:02 PM

When I moved to Virginia for college (I’d grown up here in Seattle), I heard people use the term “rochambeau” for the game “rock, paper, scissors” for the first time.

I had always thought that “ro” maybe stood for “rock,” and “cham”… well, my theory trailed off here, but who knows, maybe the French use champagne in place of scissors? (Champage would get the paper wet, a rock would smash the bottle?)

But today in the New York Times, there’s an article about descendants of the historical Rochambeau, a Frenchman who helped out with the American Revolution. (He’s better known as Maréchal, after the field marshal title given him by Louis XVI after he returned from America.)

Is this where the name of the game comes from? The OED is no help, it doesn’t even have an entry for “rochambeau.” I shall have to investigate further.


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I never heard it called Rochambeau until I moved out here to Seattle from the east coast.

Posted by PA Native | June 15, 2007 3:06 PM

I thought Rochambeau was kicking each other in the balls. Last one standing wins.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 15, 2007 3:09 PM

I grew up in Hawaii, and we called it Jan Ken Po, which is what they call it in Japan. This site has just informed me that the same game is called Ra Sham Bo in Korean.

Posted by motomotoyama | June 15, 2007 3:20 PM

I actually think it might be a Southeastern thing. The Stranger's Floridian Jonathan Zwickel is familiar.

Posted by annie | June 15, 2007 3:20 PM

It's crazy how french-looking french people look.

Posted by sniggles | June 15, 2007 3:20 PM

from Wikipedia...

Rock, Paper, Scissors is a two-person hand game. It is often used as a selection method in a similar way to coin flipping or drawing straws to randomly select a person for some purpose. However, unlike truly random selections, it can be played with skill if the game extends over many sessions, as a player can often recognize and exploit the non-random behavior of an opponent.

The exact name of the game can vary, with the three components appearing in a different order, or with "stone" in place of "rock". Non-English speakers may know the game by their local words for "rock, paper, scissors", although it is also known as Jankenpon in Japan, and Rochambeau in France.

Posted by Devo | June 15, 2007 3:30 PM

From Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vilmeur, Count of Rochambeau?

Posted by mmbb | June 15, 2007 3:44 PM

In France it's papier-caillou-cisaux or chifoumi, so *roshambo* isn't of french origin.
I've seen a few false etymologies of roshambo on the internet. One says it's a phonetic representation of the french name, which is clearly false.
Another says it's from the Japanese words used for rock-paper scissors, but these are gu-choki-paa.

This site however says it's the japanese name for the game and they obviously know what the japanese words used are, etc.

Posted by kinaidos | June 15, 2007 3:55 PM

I first heard it in California, but it had been shortened (per California), to "rowsh." I didn't hear the full term until much later.

Posted by torrentprime | June 15, 2007 4:54 PM

My sources tell me that in parts of Canada it's called "cowboy-ninja-bear". Try to guess which beats which and why!

Posted by Bryan in the UK | June 15, 2007 5:15 PM

@10 Ooooh! My guess: Ninja kills cowboy (obviously much more badass). Bear kills ninja (not easily stopped with ninja stars or slicey things). Cowboy kills bear (Davy Crockett style, although I'm not sure he qualifies as a cowboy).

Posted by Kate | June 15, 2007 5:20 PM

wow, and usually only the smart ones leave washington to go to college...

Posted by meehoff | June 15, 2007 7:34 PM

Mr Poe has it right. We'll show it to you.

But we go first.

Posted by Original Monique | June 15, 2007 11:28 PM

I never heard the game called Rochambeau until I lived in San Francisco. My friends who used that name lived near a city park called Rochambeau Playground
So I assumed the name was taken from the name of the park.

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky | June 16, 2007 8:31 AM

it isn't fucking Rochambeau. Have you ever seen it spelled out? It's the way lazy whiteys have bastardized (yet another) non-english phrase. way to go, assholes. and the reason you don't hear it on the east coast is because there isn't as large of an asian population.

Posted by d | June 16, 2007 12:42 PM

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