Ever wondered where the word ‘hokey’ comes from?

The subject arose in a conversation I had the other day. The conversation, to be sure, focused on the relationship between giant comets and the end of the world; earthquakes and cosmic harmonics. Needless to say, somewhere along the way the word ‘hokey’ came up.

“I wonder where that word comes from,” mused Melissa, idly.

And, having an insatiable excitation for etymology, I immediately endeavoured to find out.

But it turns out the answer is not a simple one, and the origins of the word are mired in as much mystery as, well, the Mayan Calendar. There are, however, several competing theories.

The Song and Dance Theory

Yes, this is the one you probably already guessed. You know the song – “You do the hokey pokey, and twist it all about”. But I bet you didn’t know that variations of this song date as far back as 1830, to a Victorian-era hit called the “Hokey Pokey Whankey Fong”. Anyhow, nonsense song = nonsense word, and the idea goes that the word became a synonym for anything silly or foolish.

The Ice Cream Theory

This is another common notion, dating from around the turn of the century. Ice cream sellers used to peddle their wares out on street-corners, much like the lemonade stands of our own childhood. Many of these were run by Italians, who would try to reel in potential customers with an Italian ice cream sales pitch: ecco un poco (here’s a little). Much of the ice cream sold by these street-corner ice cream peddlers was, however, made with cheap or fake ingredients. So the bastardization of the Italian ice-cream sales pitches became a synonym for bogus claims or ideas.

The Cocaine Theory

Okay, now we’re getting into the good stuff. This theory actually attributes the origin of the term to cocaine-sniffing Canadian miners of the early 20th century. Yep, you got that right – the True North Strong and Free was built by a bunch of crackheads. The idea goes that life up in the mines was so boring that there was little else to do but sniff cocaine and, well, write songs about sniffing cocaine (the more things change…). Hence the “cokey-cokey”, which some argue actually inspired the later, much more innocent, “hokey-pokey”.

Is it true? Are our kindergarten classes actually dancing the equivalent of Victorian-era gangsta rap? Was Stephen Harper’s True North Strong and Free founded on the toil and labour of a bunch of crack dealers? We’ll return to this point shortly.

The Religious Theory

This one’s an interesting one too. Here’s how it goes: people back in the Victorian-era (who must have had more fun than I ever imagined they did!) tended to go to Catholic Mass a lot. Cathedrals were big, and services conducted in Latin. So nobody really had a clue what was actually going on. All they could see was the back of a priest, arms waving about, going through mysterious motions and chanting in a language they couldn’t understand. So, they invented the ‘hokey-pokey’ – a song mimicking the bizarre gestures and motions of a priest conducting mass, accompanied by lyrics which, so far as any of them could tell, were what the priest was saying in Latin. It’s in fact for this reason that Protestants often do the hokey pokey to make fun of Catholics (at sports matches, for instance) and there are some jurisdictions in England where doing the hokey pokey, and shaking it all about, has been classified as a hate crime.

The Magic Theory

Is actually related, oddly, to the Religious Theory. In this scheme of things, ‘hokey’ comes from ‘hocus pocus’. Hold on now. Where does ‘hocus pocus’ come from? Well according to one theory it actually comes from Latin as well. From hoc est enim corpus meum, to be specific. This is the phrase referring to transubstantiation, when the Eucharist becomes the body of Christ for Catholics. “Magical nonsense!” proclaimed the Puritans…and henceforth the shortened version ‘hocus pocus’ came to refer to cheap magic tricks.

So why have I brought you on this journey through the etymology (word history) of the word ‘hokey’? Well, let’s return to those coke-dealing Canadian pioneers. Some shocking, wha? I mean…if the True North Strong and Free was built on the backs of drugs…well, reeling from this possibility, I asked myself the question I often ask myself when faced with a tough reality I can’t really deal with.

What Would Stephen Harper Do? (WWSHD)

Well, he’d probably buy some fighter jets, I suppose. I mean, it seems to be his coping mechanism. It’s a logical way to deal with drug-smoking miners, isn’t it? Mind you, the jets would probably come without engines. And not work in the harsh conditions of the Arctic which they were supposedly bought to protect. They wouldn’t even be able to use standard satellite communications. And he’d contract out Canadian pilot training to the Americans, rather than have the Canadian military trained by Canadians. But at half a billion a pop, they’d look darn sweet on a tarmac for election campaign photo-shoots, wouldn’t they? Even if the soon-to-be-retired CF-18’s could whoop them in a Top Gun battle.

But he’d probably also respond with something like Bill C-10, the Conservatives’ current crime bill. Mind you, the bill has been denounced by everybody from international crime experts to die-hard conservatives to red-neck judges from Texas to…well, pretty much everybody who’s not a Conservative cabinet minister. In fact, it’s been widely warned that it’s more likely to increase crime and make Canada’s cities much more dangerous than they currently are. So why is this handful of Conservatives so determined to push through a bill that will in all probability actually increase crime, make the streets more dangerous, and cause huge public expense? And even in the face of massive public opposition? Well, here’s where our hokey research comes in handy. Because I have five potential theories.

The Song and Dance Theory

According to the Song and Dance Theory, the point of the legislation is to APPEAR to be doing something, even if you’re actually not – and even if the thing you ARE doing actually makes the problem worse. But passing a bill that you CALL ‘tough on crime’ – even if its outcome is to increase crime – is more important than actually bolstering the institutions in society that are currently doing an excellent job of fighting crime. The problem is that there’s enough smart research out there to expose the Song and Dance for what it is – a hokey pokey twist on crime. (the Conservative solution to that is to shut down all research agencies they can, eliminate the census, and generally try to make society dumber)

The Cocaine Theory

Here’s the interesting thing about the crime bill. Cocaine use is one of the crimes that IS on the rise. Yet Conservative policies do fairly little to stop the hard drug trade – in fact, their austerity and regressive tax policies, and also their pending repeal of the gun registry, mean that they’re crippling police departments and undermining their ability to organize and conduct the sort of complex operations needed to take out the heavier drug rings. Moreover, the Conservatives are toying with the idea of eliminating the RCMP. They haven’t described it as such, but their tough negotiations with the provinces over RCMP funding arrangements suggests that they’re willing to allow the gradual elimination of the national force, leaving policing exclusively to the provinces. Meanwhile, crime bills such as C-10 focus on making fairly minor infractions into serious crimes; in other words, it focuses on persecuting the average citizen, while leaving the tough, well-funded crime rings free to operate. It’s the cheapskate way to distract the public from an ineffective crime policy: get tough on the minor infractors, while depriving the police of the resources to do anything about real criminals.

The Religious Theory

This theory suggests that the Conservative leadership have become so wrapped up in their own ideological dogma that they’re incapable of actually making rational decisions based on fact, evidence or research. After running around so long echoing a pseudo US-republican policy line, maybe they actually believe it so much that they’ve completely lost touch with reality. I mean, with science ministers that don’t believe in dinosaurs, environment ministers that promote the oil sands, and Francophone ministers that don’t speak French, it does seem that reality is the last thing on Conservatives’ minds.

The Magic Theory

This theory holds that the Conservatives believe the best way to fight crime is through magic. There are a variety of ways to do this. You can put everybody in jail, thereby making everyone disappear (poof!) and thus eliminating both criminals and victims. This is one possible outcome of Bill C-10.

The Bill is magical in other ways. I mean, it’s sort of like palm-reading or fortune-telling. You go to a palm-reader or astrologer, they tell you a lot of vague things, then you go away and think to yourself over the next week, yeah, I suppose what’s happening to me in real life is sort of like what the astrologer said. Only the Conservative legislative version of this is you pass a bill, then spin the facts to make it seem like the bill makes crime even lower than it is (sensationalized media crime coverage helps – giving more prominent coverage to crime at a time when it’s statistically decreasing). Of course, with the census and other research agencies shut down, there’s no way of really *knowing* whether the interpretation of facts is accurate, or whether the facts themselves are even accurate…much like there’s no empirical way of proving how close the astrologer *really* was to predicting your future.

The Ice Cream Theory

Well, I’m still working on this one.

The upshot of this all is, the Conservative crime bill is pretty much like the hokey-pokey. Nobody really knows where it comes from, nobody really knows why they’re doing it, it doesn’t really make any sense when you actually think about it, but one thing will happen in the end: it’ll shake us all about, and turn us upside-down.

And that’s what it’s all about.