How universal is the concept of "calling dibs?"
October 5, 2018 4:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm curious about the idea of calling dibs, what other international words there might be for it, and what variations there might be on the concept.

In the US, especially in childhood and in the workplace I think, the idea is pretty sacred. If I called dibs the front seat before my siblings, it was mine and that was that, unless Mom or Dad intervened. If Sally calls dibs on the last chocolate donut before she goes to make more coffee, but Kate eats it anyway, Kate is a major jackass, and everyone in the office thinks so.

I think that this basic idea must be pretty universal, because it contributes to an orderly society, but I could be wrong on that. What different words are used to make the claim, how much is it followed into adulthood or is it just a childhood thing? Are there different settings where it's more respected or not?
posted by backwards compatible to Grab Bag (47 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm also from the US & grew up saying dibs too, but for the front seat specifically we said 'shotgun.'
posted by diffuse at 4:51 AM on October 5, 2018 [14 favorites]

Growing up in northern England, we used to say 'bagsy' as in 'I bagsy the front seat' or 'Bagsy the front seat!'
posted by iamsuper at 4:55 AM on October 5, 2018 [11 favorites]

Lots more here
posted by pipeski at 4:56 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

UK perspective - very much a child thing. Anyone over about 12 calling "dibs" would be mocked, certainly in my London/adult experience
posted by fatfrank at 4:57 AM on October 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

Shotgun, bagsy, "called it", or a simple MINE!!!
posted by humuhumu at 5:01 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

We said bagsy when we were kids (English midlands), my kids say shotgun, or shot. Specifically they very quickly say "shot not" when they don't want it to be them who has to do something.

As an adult, I jokingly but still very sincerely honour a bagsy. Some things you just have to respect. It has power. I would think poorly of someone who didn't honour it. But you have to use the word so that the others hear you - you can't just take something & retrospectively bagsy it.
posted by rd45 at 5:10 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Dibs is alive in Chicago, where leaving junk lawn furniture in the on-street parking space you shoveled your car out of in the winter is usually respected. But that’s because breaking dibs sometimes gets your car keyed or windows broken.
posted by hwyengr at 5:21 AM on October 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also grew up in the north of England and used bags/bagsy, with ‘bagsed’ as the past tense when in verb form. Husband who grew up in the west of Scotland recognises it too.

It’s not as sacred as it was when we were children and you did NOT break a bagsy, but I still wouldn’t break a bagsy.
posted by Catseye at 5:23 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

In Australia, we just say "bags", (a rare case of us not using a y/ie/ee suffix) e.g. "Bags front!" Or, "Who's going to do [onerous task]?" -- "Bags not me."
posted by quinndexter at 5:24 AM on October 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

This guy has a good summary on his blog. In Mexico, you might say 'primas!' but I don't think that in other languages it has the same ubiquity or sacred quality that it has in the US.

In the US at least, it feels to me like something that is a part of sports or 'bro' culture as a short, competitive game. At least in the US, adults I know that use it are usually the more sports type. It also has a informal rudeness among adults that in societies with stricter, social norms such as Britain would be laughably out of place.
posted by vacapinta at 5:26 AM on October 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

NYer here. I said dibs as a kid, but like diffuse, shotgun for the front seat. My kids turned shotgun into "I shot" followed by whatever they were laying claim to. So, to me, comically, "I shot front seat" rather than just saying "shotgun".
posted by AugustWest at 5:28 AM on October 5, 2018

"Who's going to do [onerous task]?" -- "Bags not me."

"Shot not" around here.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:35 AM on October 5, 2018

Two more related concepts:

In Pittsburgh, we have parking chairs - in the winter, if you shovel out a space, you can retain your claim on it by putting a folding chair in the place when you leave. I think it’s ridiculous and small, but people generally respect it.

Opposite of dibs is “nose”. Last person to touch their nose has to do the task or chore.
posted by punchtothehead at 5:37 AM on October 5, 2018 [6 favorites]

Growing up in the Boston area we would "hosey" things.

We would also "buck up" instead of Rock Paper Scissors, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:38 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

In Singapore, you chope your place with a small packet of tissues. You can point to something and say you chope it as well.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:41 AM on October 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

New Zealand. We did "bags" or "bags not". For the front seat you could say "shotgun".

When you say you "bags not" doing something, you put your thumb to your forehead. Last person to put their thumb there has to do the thing.

It's definitely more something for kids/teens. Adults only do it ironically.
posted by lollusc at 5:48 AM on October 5, 2018

Scotland here, and I've heard 'bags' 'dibs' and 'chip' (usually 'chip not' to avoid something, but sometimes 'chip the last bag of crisps'). Front seat though is always shotgun. These were generally respected, as a kid, unless it was clearly unfair or ridiculous.

Agree that it's a children's thing though, and when adults do it it's as a joke with no expectations. Except shotgun, which is obviously deadly serious and the only sensible way to decide who gets the front seat.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:58 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Austrian here. I honestly never came across the concept. Also not from any of the North Americans and British i work with daily.

I cannot think of any equivalent of either the concept or phrase in Austrian German.
posted by 15L06 at 6:03 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

In Aus one 'bags's (or, as mentioned above 'bags not') something, at which point they have 'baggsed' it.
posted by pompomtom at 6:11 AM on October 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

We did dibs in my east coast suburb (or used quarters to mark who's next on an arcade machine), but negative dibs were more involved. If it was something like being "it" in tag, we would sometimes spontaneously play the nose game where the last person to touch their nose is it. Same basic thing for the stick out your tongue game. If a basketball went over the fence, everyone sits down and the last one standing has to get it.
posted by mattamatic at 6:32 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Boston 'burbs. We did "dibs" for generic stuff and "shotgun" for the front seat. I remember people using "hosey" when I was very young but that seems to have faded out by the end of the 1970s.

Opposite of "dibs" was "not it!" Like in the example of the basketball, if it went over the fence and someone had to go get it the last one to yell "not it!" would have to get it.

And yes, these concepts are sacred.

I did them as a child, into my teens, and in my early 20s as a stoner when I still hung out with my stoner buddies. I haven't done it in many years but I don't know if it's because I've grown out of it or if I'm just never in a position where dibs needs to be called. I only have one child so he has no siblings against whom he needs to claim dibs.
posted by bondcliff at 6:41 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm in the US (grew up in NJ, have lived my whole adult life in PA) and I think of "dibs" as a childhood thing and a thing you might do semi-jokingly with close friends or family, but the notion of "dibs" in a professional setting is pretty foreign to me.

But yes, the Pittsburgh parking chair is an important institution that should be respected except in the most dire of emergencies. Putting the parking chair out all year round is just being a jerk, though; it's a snowstorm-only phenomenon. Special exceptions granted for short-term issues like "we're moving some furniture today and need this space" or "I broke my foot and need to park close to the house for a few weeks" or something. Parking Chair is a complex phenomenon.
posted by Stacey at 6:57 AM on October 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Grew up in NJ and it was either dibs or "calling it." ("I call front seat by the window" is actually what we said for shotgun for a long time"). A friend grew up in Kansas and said "I ah-bee-dibs it!" for dibs.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:37 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Who's going to do [onerous task]?" -- "Bags not me."

"Shot not" around here.

"Nose goes" (or occasionally "toes goes") operates slightly differently, but to the same end.
posted by mosst at 7:42 AM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Who's going to do [onerous task]?" -- "Bags not me."

Which can be locked down with a 'bagsy no backs'. (I'm amazed how seldom this phrase has been used online. Like a dozen google hits.)
posted by robself at 7:45 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Good article on the uses of shotgun/dibs/bagsy by an American linguist living in the UK.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:45 AM on October 5, 2018

I'm Chinese, born in Hong Kong and grew up in an immigrant population near Toronto. The first time I heard "shotgun!" was when I was 16 and went off to work as an Ontario Ranger with 20 born-and-raised Canadian girls from across the province. I had to see it a few times to be sure how it worked. Meaning... calling x to claim something was not a concept for me at all. In fact, it challenged my loosely held belief that it was rude to race to get something, since growing up Chinese you got told stories and parables about "good" people who gave up the better things to other people. Anyway, now I live in Portland, OR, and hang out with a bunch of people who are native to the west coast, and I think both shotgun and dibs are used, though never in a serious or professional way.
posted by bread-eater at 7:58 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Chicago meaning of dibs - to refer to a dug out parking space that is saved via the use of lawn furniture, santas, statues of the virgin mary, or whatever else you have lying around - seems to be a Chicago-only interpretation. The meaning of dibs to refer to laying claim to whatever seems to be more widespread - understood in Massachusetts and Minnesota, also.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:01 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

UK perspective - very much a child thing. Anyone over about 12 calling "dibs" would be mocked, certainly in my London/adult experience
Stuffy londoners. We used it well into our 30's. In fact, maybe the only reason we still don't use it is because I haven't lived in the UK since I was in my 30's. It was bagsy when I was a kid, dibs teenage years on I think.

(of course, it was increasingly ironic and jokey, and was more prone to "Don't be a dick you can't dibs that" comments as we got older, but it had a place). This was usually in shared living spaces or work places (dibs on the last doughnut in the workroom for example).
posted by Brockles at 8:02 AM on October 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

I grew up in a large family in the southern US. We called dibs to claim and not it to shuck responsibility. Shotgun was used specifically to call the front seat. Also related, if you got up from your comfy seat and wanted to have it back, you called spot back. If someone didn't call spot back, the seat could be taken away by calling spot jack. I still use all of these as a relatively immature adult, lol.
posted by roadrunner9 at 8:07 AM on October 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

Similar to bread-eater above, I grew up in Toronto, but as a Canadian-born Chinese. In our culture there is no equivalent to this as far as I know, and it would be rude to 'call dibs' on something. One is expected to be self-effacing and deferential.

But being westernised, I grew up hearing 'I call dibs' and 'shotgun!' all the time. Now I mostly hear those from my kids; it's not really something adults do, except in a jokey way.
posted by methroach at 8:10 AM on October 5, 2018

New England -
Definitely dibs was a thing. Shotgun too. We'd also call "fives" for when we stood up to announce that the chair we were in was to remain ours when we returned in ~ five minutes. I'd also say that one was more sacrosanct than dibs or shotgun, maybe maybe just to us.
posted by General Malaise at 9:13 AM on October 5, 2018

I'm pretty sure "shotgun" is specific to North America, as I believe it originally referred to the stage coach rider who sat next to the driver, armed and vigilant for banditos.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:22 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

In Germany this has apparently become a thing among teenagers in recent years, though I don't know where it originated - maybe a TV or Netflix show? They call it by the English term "dibs". I hear it most often used in the context when someone *doesn't* want to be the one who has to do something, at least in highschool.


Lehrer: Wer kann mal bitte die Tafel wischen?"
Schüler: "
Dibs, ich nicht!"

Teacher: "Can someone please clean the blackboard?"
Student: "Dibs, not me!"

Saying "dibs" will sometimes be accompanied by pointing an index finger to one's nose.
posted by amf at 9:46 AM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Southern English, we used bagsy and shotgun but only till maybe late teens? Living in France now, admittedly don't know many teenagers/children but don't hear this concept.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:19 AM on October 5, 2018

In New England, we used dibs, shotgun, and "shotty" (often for things besides the front passenger seat). You can "call fives" when getting up from a seat to indicate that you'll be back to sit there again within five minutes (if you take longer than five, it's up for grabs). I still hear this jokingly among friends I've known since childhood/young adult times, but it's rarely "enforced."
posted by telegraph at 12:01 PM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Allow me to illustrate how fundamental is the concept of "dibs" to my upbringing (suburban NY) by telling you about Super Shotgun.

Super Shotgun was, as far as I know, invented by my friend Dave, who, like me, grew up in Westchester County, NY. The system is that everyone who participates is given 5 Super Shotguns, total, to use over the entire course of one's life. The supply cannot be replenished; when they're gone, they're gone. Keeping tabs on your stock of Super Shotguns is a duty to be upheld on the honor system - a sacred covenant.

A Super Shotgun trumps a "regular" shotgun, and is itself untrumpable. That is, if someone calls "shotgun," a Super Shotgun supersedes that call, and the caller of shotgun is relegated to the back seat. If a second person calls Super Shotgun, it does NOT supersede the first Super Shotgun, yet the person is "charged" one Super Shotgun - a poor use of a precious resource.

One of my high school friends is still chided to this day for spending his Super Shotguns wantonly - on, for instance, a short drive to the movie theater. I think he may have two left. I, on the other hand, am proud to say that I have four left, and that the one Super Shotgun that I spent was spent with great cunning: On a hot, humid day, when my friends Chris and Jen and I were driving from Baltimore to NY in a car in which the air conditioning was working only in the front seat, Jen called shotgun as we walked to the car; Chris was driving. I smiled and called Super Shotgun, and Chris without hesitation sent Jen to the backseat, as per the rules of this sacred bond. I rode in air conditioned comfort while Jen sweated.

All of which is to say: Dibs is IMPORTANT.

Anyone reading this is now invited to play Super Shotgun, too. Remember, you have five, and five only. Play fair!
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

Canadian here - as kids we used dibs to call something, and shotgun for the front seat. As an adult you'd only really use those terms jokingly amongst your friends, I think anyone calling dibs on a donut in an office setting would be considered really rude. People are more likely to offer to share the last donut, or even cut the last one in half and leave half rather than leave others without.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:15 PM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Saying "dibs" will sometimes be accompanied by pointing an index finger to one's nose.

This is interesting, because we hold a index finger to our nose to indicate "not it," as in "Who is cleaning up?" Everybody points to their nose, the last to do so has to clean up.
posted by General Malaise at 1:19 PM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I remember using "bagsies" as a kid, and would say "dibs" now, and "shotgun" for the passenger seat (yes, I still use them, I am immature). But as I read your question I had a sudden flash that we used to say "potsy" or "potsies." Anyone else run into this? I grew up in the US and Scandinavia, in English-speaking international circles.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:01 PM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Grew up in Midwestern US and lived most of my adult years in NYC. In my experience dibs is the term used only by kids/teens to claim things, except for calling shotgun specifically for the front seat.

Strongly disagree with the premise that dibs is sacrosanct in the workplace. I've worked in some pretty informal settings and calling dibs in anything other than a joking or ironic way would just mark you as an ass.
posted by theory at 3:16 PM on October 5, 2018

Seconding @theory -- workplace "dibs" is not allowable. The donut example OP cited in the workplace would be infuriating.

I think in adulthood, calling dibs for someone else or for yourself because of a clear reason is totally fine. So, "dibs on the aisle seat for X because they're pregnant" or "shotgun because I get carsick" are acceptable, but no adult dibs just because someone was the first to spew words out of their mouth.
posted by vacuumsealed at 4:34 PM on October 5, 2018

here in DK we say "helle for" when we either want something "helle for den sidste styk kage" (dibs on the last piece of cake) or do not want to do something "helle for ikke at vaske op!" (dibs on not washing up)
posted by alchemist at 8:16 PM on October 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have a friend from Austria and she confirms they have no concept of dibs. Or shotgun.
posted by greermahoney at 8:49 PM on October 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Taiwan also has no concept of dibs. No shotgun, either, but that might be because people spend less time in cars.
posted by storytam at 6:16 AM on October 6, 2018

You can "call fives" when getting up from a seat to indicate that you'll be back to sit there again within five minutes (if you take longer than five, it's up for grabs).

I think we used 15 minutes because we said "one-five." My mom grew up saying "place reserved" for the same purpose.
posted by Pax at 9:40 AM on October 8, 2018

On the West Coast of Canada, definitely Shotgun meant the front seat of a car. Dibs meant anything else.
But, there were sub-rules to Shotgun.
1: whoever was snogging/shagging the driver got the front seat over any Shotgun call.
2: the mother/father of the driver got the front seat over any girl/boy friend.
3: grandparents beat parents best girl/boy friend of driver

Simple, right?
posted by drinkmaildave at 8:49 PM on October 8, 2018

« Older How to ask for soft, comfortable t-shirt material?   |   Attention Pokemon Trainers: My kid needs help Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments