The Hokey Pokey: Background information when reading Hokey Pokey

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Hokey Pokey

by Jerry Spinelli

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli X
Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2013, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2014, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Hokey Pokey

Print Review

You put your right foot in
You put your right foot out
You put your right foot in
And you shake it all about.
You do the Hokey Pokey
And you turn yourself around
That's what it's all about!

The Hokey Pokey is a timeless circle game, played by millions of children in millions of circles across many, many miles. But where did it come from? How did it start?

The Hokey Pokey Dance The Hokey Pokey (known as such in the United States, Canada, Ireland and Australia, known as Hokey Cokey in the U.K., and Hokey Tokey in New Zealand) is a circle dance, in which the participants sing the song (see above) and follow the lyrics, putting different parts of the body into the circle when instructed to do so. The Hokey Pokey appears to have a few possible places of origin.

The first was in wartime London. Supposedly a Canadian army officer suggested that Al Tabor, a British bandleader during the 1920-50s, write a party song. Al Tabor wrote it in 1942, and titled the song Hokey Pokey, based on a childhood memory he had of an ice cream vendor calling out: Hokey pokey penny a lump! Have a lick make you jump! Tabor changed the name from Pokey to Cokey on the suggestion of the officer who said it would sound better. Speaking of ice cream, one theory suggests that the words Hokey Pokey came from the Italian ecco un poco which means here is a little and was used by the Italian ice cream vendors who sold bits of ice cream wrapped in waxed paper.

But others suggest that Irish songwriter and publisher Jimmy Kennedy (who is known for The Teddy Bear's Picnic) created the song and dance in 1942 to entertain Canadian soldiers stationed in London.

Another theory is that the song originated in the United States – in Scranton, PA to be exact. Two musicians, Robert Degan and Joe Brier, supposedly created the song and dance in 1946 to entertain vacationers in the Poconos Mountains Resorts.

Yet another theory is that the term Hokey Cokey came from hocus pocus, the familiar chant that a magician utters as he does his tricks. This term was created as a mockery of the Latin term hoc corpus meum, which describes the Catholic Mass communion bread becoming the body of Jesus Christ.

Finally, others have suggested that the song comes from a Shaker song called Hinkum Booby. It was heard as early as 1857, supposedly sung by two sisters on a visit to Bridgewater, NH, from Canterbury, England. It was published in Edward Deming Andrews' book, The Gift to be Simple: Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers and goes like this:

I put my right hand in,
I put my right hand out,
I give my right hand a shake, shake, shake and I
Turn myself about.

Circling back to ice cream, there is the New Zealand-based Hokey Pokey ice cream, which is vanilla with honeycomb toffee. Incidentally Hokey Pokey is the Cornish term for honeycomb. My New Zealand friend – who used to live in NYC and now lives on the west coast of Canada – constantly laments that he can't get any of this delicious treat where he lives. I found a recipe for the "hokey pokey" part of the ice cream here. I am tempted to try it!

Picture from mentalfloss.com

Article by Tamara Smith

This article was originally published in January 2013, and has been updated for the April 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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