Origin of seesaw

1630–40 as part of a jingle accompanying a children's game; gradational compound based on saw1

Regional variation note

Although seesaw (def. 2) is the most widely used term in the U.S., teetertotter is also in wide use in the Northern, North Midland, and Western regions. Tilting board and its variants tilt board and tiltering board are New Eng. terms, especially Eastern New Eng., while tinter and its variant teenter are associated with Western New Eng.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for see-saw

Contemporary Examples of see-saw

Historical Examples of see-saw

  • Roger left the see-saw and climbed to the top of the board fence.

    The Forbidden Trail

    Honor Willsie

  • Charley's end of the see-saw was on the ground so she scrambled up laughing.

    The Forbidden Trail

    Honor Willsie

  • Or there's only one process, and "see-saw" is one of its aspects.

  • For these two tendencies throughout the world are like a see-saw.

    Home Rule

    Harold Spender

  • Oh, Sammy Lee's afraid of me, riding the see-saw under the tree.

    The Beth Book

    Sarah Grand

British Dictionary definitions for see-saw



a plank balanced in the middle so that two people seated on the ends can ride up and down by pushing on the ground with their feet
the pastime of riding up and down on a seesaw
  1. an up-and-down or back-and-forth movement
  2. (as modifier)a seesaw movement


(intr) to move up and down or back and forth in such a manner; oscillate

Word Origin for seesaw

C17: reduplication of saw 1, alluding to the movement from side to side, as in sawing
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for see-saw

also seesaw, 1630s, in see-saw-sacke a downe (like a Sawyer), words in a rhythmic jingle used by children and repetitive motion workers, probably imitative of the rhythmic back-and-forth motion of sawyers working a two-man saw over wood or stone (see saw. Ha ha.). Reference to a game of going up and down on a balanced plank is recorded from 1704; figurative sense is from 1714. Applied from 1824 to the plank arranged for the game.


also seesaw, "move up and down," 1712, from see-saw (n.). Related: See-sawed; see-sawing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper