18 November 2006

Shaken All About

This wasn't what I expected to write about today, but I've just been flabbergasted by news from Michael Quinion's World Wide Words that children older than my mother never had a chance to do the hokey-pokey.

Quinion writes of that song and dance:

Its history is bedevilled by accusations of plagiarism, but the original seems to have been that composed by Jimmy Kennedy in the UK in 1942, which was referred to during the War years variously as the cokey-cokey, the okey-cokey and the hokey-cokey.

The US version under the name hokey-pokey is usually attributed to Larry LaPrise in 1949.
The term "hokey-pokey" had two meanings documented in the 1800s:
  • cheating of some sort, probably derived from a conjurer's "hocus pocus."
  • cheap ice cream, probably derived from milk.
But wait! I find other scholars suggesting that, copyrights and composers' royalties aside, there were earlier songs very much like the hokey-pokey. Because Quinion is interested in the word, not the dance, he doesn't discuss these.

A very familiar verse about putting limbs in and out and shaking them all about appeared in Edward Deming Andrews's The Gift to Be Simple, a 1940 collection of Shaker songs, still available in a Dover edition. Another such dance is reportedly described in Robert Chambers's The Popular Rhymes of Scotland, first published in 1826. (I've seen only the 1870 edition, and wasn't looking to put anything in or out at the time.) So children of yore were probably not as deprived as I feared.


Anonymous said...

I understood the Hokey-Cokey to be a song that referred to Holy Communion, poking fun at it and the 'hocus-pocus' elements of consecrating the elements. The bit when you actually sing 'you do the hokey-cokey' are accompanied by the interlinked fingers, hands-together movement to left and right, which is meant to be indicative of when the priest puts his hands together over the chalice and paten to consecrate the elements under his hands.

J. L. Bell said...

Michael Quinion's page on "hocus pocus" says there's a 400-year tradition of associating that phrase with the Latin mass, but he's skeptical of the evidence.