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  • Childhood has a patois all its own. Expressions, slang, and arcana are passed along, generation-to-generation. They flourish, and then fade, from adult memory. Nevertheless, children run an underground memory railroad, and safeguard childhood’s flame.

    Native twisted logic and improvisation is unbridled in kids. Childhood’s common law is acknowledged and respected, but youth is always up to a challenge. My brother Jeff and I grew up in the 1960’s. Jeff was likely 8, and I was 11, when we completed our evolution of the childhood normalized “I promise no crossy” pledge. I emailed him recently with a subject header that read: “Childhood Memory Check.” I simply asked him to complete our oath, and gave him "I promise no crossies" as the starting point. He replied:

    “The first thing that came to mind was ‘no insies’ --- but that's not even a word. I think I remember it as a sound, but don't remember the word. I don't remember the whole thing, but do remember the cadence of the phrase. I think there were two verses to it.”

    Adult memories might melt, but childhood shape-trickles remain in rhythm, and sing. I do remember the whole ditty. It was developed as an arms race, with countermeasures learned from broken promises. I will reconstruct here what we said in our youth and how, through my adult spectacles, I think it grew. It was a recitation grown from very old rootstock:

    I promise
    Promises have been extended since time immemorial. While a simple “I swear” has more credibility, and calls to witness a higher authority, kids learned over the ages that adult overheard swearing would get their bare-bottoms switched, belted, or spanked. A promise would have to do, even though they could be broken.

    I promise no crossies
    The “no crossy” finger-crossing condition generally cements a child’s promise. The "crossy" supposedly started as a gesture to ward off the underworld when telling a white lie. Near as I can tell, this expression was first documented in 1905. That was also the year Einstein presented his quantum theory of light. Einstein’s theory postulated the dual nature of light, delivered in “packets.” Children already knew that “truth” can be similarly dual, and packet delivered, so they created the “no crossy” shield. My brother and I went straight to crossy’s plural, since crossed arms or legs might technically invalidate a pledge.

    I promise no crossies, no nothing
    If crossed limbs could negate an oath, what then about crossed-eyes or hair? Better to legislate a “no nothing” modification clause. That should button-down all physical mass contortions.

    I promise no crossies, no nothing, no “ints.”
    Physical countermeasures might have been battened down, but a grammatical device opened a new door. The “ints” were actually “n’ts.” In other words, the provision was to avoid a temporal exit strategy such as, “I said I would…n’t.” Mass and time were now managed.

    I promise no crossies, no nothing, no “ints.” No double Dutch.
    Sometimes it is necessary to reach deep into history to find a mitigating and exclusionary precedent. Since circa 1600, "Dutch" was a pejorative word, repurposed by the English to describe the incomprehensible. The term “double Dutch” was first recorded in 1789. It essentially means “gibberish.” We now had a firm provision for gobbledygook. Mass, time, and dark matter - handled.

    I promise no crossies, no nothing, no “ints.” No double Dutch, no 4th double Dutch..
    We innately knew the importance and possibilities of the numeric exponent. Exponential numbers leapfrog towards infinity in ever-greater hops. Math is scary. Best to close this gaping loophole quickly, but how? We were looking for a speed of light constant.

    I promise no crossies, no nothing, no “ints.” No double Dutch, no 4th double Dutch, no double Dutch.
    The solution was perhaps less elegant then E=MC2, but it worked. We created an endless loop and thereby circumvented nth power. Exhausted, we achieved détente.

    While the whole recital should have been enough to close a promise, it was usually echoed by a voiced ¡Trato hecho! Done deal. Spanish could have given us multiple new contractual avenues to explore, but with that declarative phrase, we moved on.

    At that point, we would extend our hands to shake on an agreement. Our palms faced-off within inches, but instead of clasping hands, at the last minute, we would air-kiss with a shaky hand-waggle. To touch is to confide, which might explain why we never pinky-sweared. Besides, what's a little wiggle-room between brothers?
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