Slang dictionary

Circle Game

or circle game [sur-kuh l geym]

What does Circle Game mean?

The Circle Game is an activity where one person makes a “circle” with their fingers and holds it below their waist, convincing a second person to look at it. If the second person looks, they receive a punch to the shoulder.

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Where does Circle Game come from?

The Daily Dot

Playable anywhere, the Circle Game is initiated when one person makes a circle with their forefinger and thumb, resembling the OK gesture, and holds it below waist-level. If someone else makes eye contact with the circle, then the “circler” gets to punch them in the arm. Players especially enjoy the game in inappropriate situations, sometimes setting elaborate or creative traps for their target.

In one common variation of the Circle Game, if the target person breaks the circle with their finger, they get to punch the “circler” instead.

The origins of the Circle Game are disputed. People anecdotally recall playing the game in the schoolyard in the 1970–80s. Vice traced the game to one, Matthew Nelson, who claims credit for inventing it in New Bremen, Ohio in the early 1980s—though there’s no proof he either created or named the game. The TV show Malcolm in the Middle, which featured the game, helped popularize the Circle Game in the 2000s.

In the 2010s, references to the Circle Game have grown in popularity, often as an online meme, marking a new digital era of the schoolyard game. Its contemporary usage may be driven by millennial nostalgia (or an effort to capitalize on it) or simply by the possibilities the internet has opened up for the game.

Pictures of people making the circle with their hand, particularly as a way to photobomb an otherwise serious photograph, are often accompanied by the phrase got ‘em or simply gotem, meaning that the circling hand has “got” whoever is looking at it. Not surprisingly, the popularity of the Circle Game and “got ‘em” has been commercialized to sell t-shirts and coffee mugs.

Examples of Circle Game

Confused, but oddly satisfied the circle game is back 👌🏼
@MLehman_11, February 2018
Whoa whoa whoa - the circle game is up there with handball and Pokemon stadium. Don't knock it til you play it.
@stephaniebaine, February 2018
But the Circle Game is not just limited to the movie set. In a recent interview, Josh and Jennifer sneakily played while Liam answered a question.
Jenna Guillaume, BuzzFeed, November 2014

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Who uses Circle Game?

The Circle Game is most popular among young boys. Adults might refer to the Circle Game out of nostalgia (e.g., “Remember back when we played the Circle Game?”) or perhaps surprise an old friend by playing it. Mentions of the game online are sometimes accompanied by the OK Hand Sign emoji.

Though the basic rules of the Circle Game are fairly universal, different groups, regions, and people might have significant variations, such as poking people instead of punching them.

The schoolyard pastime Circle Game is not to be confused with Margaret Atwood’s 1966 book of poetry or Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song of the same name.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of Circle Game like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of Circle Game that will help our users expand their word mastery.