Knock, Knock, Ginger: The History of the Ding-Dong-Ditch Prank

A door with a door knock, ideal for knock, knock, ginger
A door. With a door knock! Perfect for knock-a door run.

During our recent feature on our brilliant UnderSwear invention, we reminded ourselves of the childhood game knock-a door run.

However, to our astonishment, after a brief bit of research we found out the game normally goes by the name of knock, knock, ginger.

And in the US it’s called ding-dong-ditch!

Horrified by this development, we decided to dig deep and unearth the deranged truth behind this childhood prank. First off, let’s answer the basics.

What’s Knock, Knock, Ginger?

It’s a street game where some kids knock on a person’s door in a neighbourhood and then run away in a gleeful panic. The reasons for this are:

  • It’s a bout of childish hedonistic mischievousness.
  • The kids who do it are usually a bit bored.
  • Down with the system!

In case you’re some toff who’s had a privileged life away from the serfs, you may not have come across this before.

But for normal people, it’s a rites of passage.

We played the game as kids in Chorley of Lancashire and it’s just one of those things everyone experiences but doesn’t really discuss. It’s a minor public nuisance, but one occasionally referred to in the media (Trigger Happy TV did a spoof of it once).

And we’ve even had it pranked on us! Yes, you can tell you’ve made it in life when you’re at that age when kids land this one on you.

It was 2017. We were living in Prestwich of Manchester renting a small house. We were sitting in our living room when up to the clouded glass front door came a nameless heathen.

A girl! Of around the age of teenage years. Giggling like an idiot with her friends, she proceeded to steel her nerves before… knock, knock, knock! And then they legged it, whooping with delight.

This one was kind of lost on them as our esteemed editor, Mr. Wapojif, was sitting there watching it all unfold. He told us:

“I was left initially nonplussed by it, to be honest. Although, just to be on the safe side, I called the police anyway and then applied for PTSD counselling.”

Yes, many an old-age pensioner’s life has been ruined by this game. But! It’s just one of those things kids do.

You’re young. You’re bored. You want a bit of a quick excitement fix. What better than to do this? Preferable over shooting up on heroin, eh?! It’s a rites of passage. Let those children knock!

The History of Knock, Knock, Ginger

Although we’re sure kids back in antiquity were also doing this, the earliest written records date to 19th century England.

The “knock, knock, ginger” is linked to a 1967 Childhood in Poetry book by John Mackay Shaw. Behold these glorious verses:

Ginger, Ginger broke a winder,
Hit the winda—crack!
The baker came out to give ‘im a clout,
And landed on his back.

However, we’ve also seen the game called knock down ginger.

This may actually be more accurate, as “knock down” is a term dating to the late 18th century. It refers to knocking on a door by pulling the door knock striker.

Plus, ginger was a common term then as it meant to “ginger up” (move smartly). So, knock the door, leg it in timely fashion.

You can just imagine irate homeowners of 18th and 19th century England answering the door to find nowhere there, kids off hidden sniggering like crazy, and older generations whining that it wasn’t like this “back in their day” etc.

But we want to take a closer look at the whole naming process stuff, as it’s very complex and we have to factor in international cultural considerations.

What DO You Call the Game Where you Knock on Someone’s Door and Then Run Away?

In 2018, Cosmopolitan’s features editor ran a poll on the name of the game.

As you can see, knock-a door run won that by a healthy margin. That’s what we always called it. And that’s what we’ll continue calling it.

Yet, away from that poll (only 210 people voted), most people in the UK seem to call it knock, knock, ginger.

Closer research online revealed not just many regional variations on the game’s name, but a colossal range of international differences.

UK Names For Knock, Knock, Ginger

From our extensive research into this essential topic, we found the following names referring to the street game:

  • Knock, knock, ginger
  • Knock down ginger
  • Knock off ginger
  • Knock-a door run
  • Knocky, knocky nine doors
  • Knock-a-dolly
  • Granny knocking
  • Chickenelly
  • Rattatat ginger
  • Knicky, knocker, nelly
  • Knick knack
  • Ring and run
  • Chappy or chicky melly (in Scotland)
  • Bobby knocking (in Wales)
  • Belfast (in Northern Ireland)
  • Knick knack (in Ireland)

But like any good street game, when kids are involved this thing will spread like wildfire. And it’s in action everywhere!

Almost enough to make you think it’s time for governments to call for martial law.

Global Names For Knock, Knock, Ginger

Taking in Europe and various other continents, let’s have a gander at naming variations.

  • Germany: Klingelstreich
  • Belgium: Belleke trek
  • USA: Ding-dong-ditch, doorbell ditch, or ring and run
  • Canada: Knock, knock, ginger, knocky, knicky nine doors, or sonne-décrisse
  • Argentina: Rinraje
  • Chile: Rín-rín-Raja
  • Colombia: Tin-tin corre-corre
  • Australia: Knick knocking or ding, dong, dash
  • South Africa: Tok-tokkie
  • South Korea: Bel-twi

Fantastic and all that… but is it legal? We can’t speak about the global implications, but we do know about life in England.

Is Knock, Knock, Ginger Legal?

Yes, but not really. In the UK, knock-a door run is a civil matter rather than a criminal one. This means the police won’t go out there and compile evidence for a case against a serial knock-a door runner.

But under The Town Police Clauses Act 1847 you can get done for trespassing and disturbing the peace. Under this clause:

“Wilfully and wantonly [disturbing] any inhabitant, by pulling or ringing any door bell, or knocking at any door.”

This can result in up to 14 days of imprisonment.

You’d have to be a bit of a sad act to call the cops on kids doing this. But, sadly, there are numerous stories of this street game enraging irate homeowners.

Particularly in America, where a few stories from recent history are documented. June 2011 and February 2021, to be precise!

  • In the 2011 case, a 56 year old bloke in Kentucky fired a shotgun at a 12 year old for performing the prank. The boy ended up in hospital but survived, whilst the bloke was charged with attempted murder. He was eventually pardoned in 2015.
  • For the 2021 case, a 63 year old in California was so infuriated by the prank he jumped into his car, sped after the kids running away, and grabbed the 11 year old responsible for ringing his doorbell. The man then, allegedly, drove the kid around the block whilst ranting about shooting him if he ever performed ding-dong-dash again.

For the latter, the bloke now faces charges of: kidnapping, criminal threats, false imprisonment, battery, and child endangerment.

So, yeah… to all the adults out there. Take a chill pill. It’s just a silly game.

How to Play Knock, Knock, Ginger

Not that we’re advocating wanton trespassing and disturbing the peace, but here’s our guide to mastering this legendary pastime.

You can also check out this guide to ding-dong-ditch by WikiHow.

It’s a complex process that, like any devious scheme, requires much foreplaning. Our suggestions are as follows:

  1. Gather a small group of your friends to discuss, and finalise, your mission.
  2. Pick an unsuspecting door.
    1. Ensure the door is robust. As in, make sure a strong knock to the door won’t lead to it collapsing on you. That would be vandalism.
    2. Plus, make sure you’re not knocking on some Texas Chainsaw Massacre type house. You don’t want to be hacked to pieces.
  3. Plan out your escape root. It’s essential to know where you’ll leg it to once you’ve completed the knocks.
  4. If you wish, plot out a spot to hide so you can observe the knocked-on door person’s confused reaction. This isn’t mandatory, but adds to the malicious glee.
  5. Knock on the door (or ring the doorbell).
  6. Leg it!

Sadly, we must end on the note a lot of modern technology ruins ding-dong-ditch. Many affluent people have cameras installed in their front door cameras.

As such, we recommend kids target working-class scumbags with this street game. They’ll be too poor (due to laziness) to afford such cameras.

And, lo, knock-a door run will continue for millennia thanks to capitalist-driven inequality. Huzzah!

14 comments

    • Hmmm. Perhaps it’s a mandatory clause in their employment contracts?

      This is the benefit of living 9 floors up in an apartment block! No hoodlum kids about to mess around with my door.

      Like

    • Didn’t play it? What are you… A WUSS!? I don’t get it anymore by dint of living 9 floors up in the air. Also, it’s never too late to start playing ding-dong-ditch. Give it a try today!

      Redheads are cool, FYI. The best hairdo.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Actually, I did have a young woman wake me up at 4am the other day. She’d confused floor 6 for floor 9. But she didn’t leg it, so I guess she was just confused. Innit.

          Anyway, IF you did that I’m just saying there’s Strangeways Prison just down the road.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. I love how this is back in the zeitgeist. I was JUST talking about it with my husband who grew up in a different part of the state (of Pennsylvania) than I did. I call it “Ding-Dong Ditch,” but he calls it “Ding-Dong Dash” or something else I’ve heard of. He also calls sneakers “tennis shoes,” so he was already weird :p

    Liked by 1 person

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