How to play Mumblety-peg Pocket Knife Game

Source of Photograph: Library of Congress. Boys playing ‘Mumble-the-Peg’ Peekskill NJ 1917 LOC 24912u

Moms, you want your son off video screens – right? One way is to give him something he can do with his hands. For boys who have learned to be responsible there is nothing like a nice pen knife to spend hours fiddling, making small lashed items and playing Mumblety-peg.

The game Mumblety-peg has nearly been lost. And I don’t mean the modern version which requires throwing a knife as close to his foot as possible, then stretching out his foot to touch the knife until one of the two contestants can’t stand anymore. And I certainly don’t mean the new game where a boy stabs the knife between his fingers, faster and faster until he stabs himself or chickens out or can’t go any faster. Instead, I am talking about the game from the 17th century.

Here is the description from Encyclopedia Britannica:

Mumblety-pegalso spelled mumbledy-peg, or mumbly-peg, original name mumble the peg, game of skill played with a knife, usually a jackknife. The game was played as early as the 17th century in the British Isles. The object of the game is for each player to flip or toss the knife in a progression of moves such that, after each one, the knife sticks in the ground and stands erect. Although positions vary, the most common ones are (1) flipping from the palm, (2) flipping from the back of the hand, (3) flipping by a twist of the fist, (4) throwing by holding the blade tip between the thumb and forefinger, (5) flipping from between the teeth, (6) throwing from each shoulder or behind each ear, (7) tossing backward over the head, and (8) throwing around the head from the back.

Each player performs in turn until he misses, resuming after other players miss unless one wins by performing all positions. The name of the game comes from a forfeit required in the early days of the game: a small peg was driven into the ground by a prescribed number of knife blows, and the loser had to pull the peg out (“mumble the peg”) with his teeth. (

Want to watch the game in action? This 3 minute video will show how it is played:

Mumblety-peg Rules:

Just like other boy games, the rules have evolved over the years. Some group of boys would develop elaborate rules including the exact sequence of throws. So getting a set of rules to pass on is not as simple as you might think! But here are the basics:

  • Each boy has his own pocket knife.
  • There is a small peg, typically made at the time of the game. The boys cut a peg and carve a point on one end.
  • Similar to the basketball game HORSE” a boy chooses where to hold the knife.  View the video below to see how this works. He begins his routine choosing a place to hold the knife, typically against his body somewhere, then “flicks” it from his body to the ground. If it sticks (rules differ, but typically only the metal part of the knife can be touching the ground. As long as it is “stuck” and no part of the handle is touching the ground, then it is “good.”)
  • Some rules say the first boy continues until one of his throws does not stick. Then the other boy must duplicate his sequence. If he does not get as far as his competitor then he is the looser. If he gets one farther, he is the winner. If he ties, the game continues.
  • Other rules say each boy flicks or throws once. The other boy must duplicate, then add one throw. Each boy in turn must remember where on the body the throws came from, then adds one. This continues until one boy misses. If he went second, he  loses. If he went first, the other boy must best him by one for the win.
  • The winning boy takes the peg and taps it with his pocket knife (like a hammer) three times with his eyes open, then three times with his eyes closed. Typically the peg is sent just below the soil. The losing boy must get the peg out with is mouth. Thus the name of the game – mumble (due to dirt in the mouth) the peg or mumblety-peg.

As the boys get better this game can take a good long time to play. And boys learn to enjoy this just like they enjoy the basketball game HORSE. Some boys agree to play the game without the peg and enjoy it just as much.

If you get your son a pocket knife you may want to read this article:

I realize that in the above article on pocket knives I ask you to teach your son that a knife is a tool, not a toy. But you may want to explain that on occasion a clean, simple game that will not have consequences (other than having to sharpen your knife for landing in the ground several times) and when no younger children are around, it is OK to play games like mumblety-peg!

Getting a boy off of video screens is not easy task. But putting an activity in his had will help you in this battle!

Have fun!


Feature image artwork: Mumblety-peg (1890) by Lucius Wolcott Hitchcock at the Allentown Art Museum.


Christian, husband, father, grandfather, and educator who finds it a privilege to blog with his daughter and daughter-in-law. My desire is to support Christian parents and help boys be understood and appreciated.

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