Simanaitis Says

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IN MY continuing Etymology for our Times, I offer the word “hoax,” often tweeted by Trump to describe things with which he disagrees or possibly misunderstands.

Merriam-Webster says the verb “to hoax” means “to trick into believing or accepting as genuine something false and often preposterous.” A hoaxer, of course, is one who hoaxes, often preposterously.


M-W’s etymological citation is brief: “probably contraction of hocus, with a first known use in 1796.

I suspect there were hoaxers and hoaxes before 1796, but apparently in the old days people were more learned of their Latin. M-W defines “to hocus” as “to perpetuate a trick or hoax on,” its first known use in 1675.

Hocus, in turn, leads us to “hocus-pocus,” which M-W defines as “sleight of hand, nonsense or sham used especially to cloak deception,” first known use 1647.

“Nonsense or sham used especially to cloak deception”? How do I keep encountering these Trump references?

M-W says hocus-pocus is “probably from hocus pocus, imitation Latin phrase used by jugglers.”

Though not addressed by M-W, I know this phrase as the beginning of “hocus pocus dominocus.” Magicians have been known to say this prior to pulling a rabbit out of a hat or fleecing the mark of a gold piece.

Like other magical banter, hocus pocus dominocus borders on heresy. The actual Latin phrase is hoc est enim corpus meum, “This is my body,” uttered in the traditional Roman Catholic mass at the transubstantiation of the communion wafer into the body of Christ.

Wouldn’t you know, when Henry VIII (”Donald Trump in a codpiece”) broke with Rome in 1534 over, among other things, his marital affairs, there’d be repercussions. In particular, witty Brits of the time parodied the liturgical phrase into hocus pocus dominocus, this last word poking fun at dominus, Latin for “master.”

This etymological trail from the 1500’s hocus pocus dominocus to 1647’s hocus to 1796’s hoax continued to 1841’s “hanky-panky.” M-W defines this as “questionable or underhanded activity; sexual dalliance.”

Uh oh, there I go again.

Purely non-politically, there’s also The Hokey Pokey, a dance made popular by Ray Anthony’s band and Jo Ann Greer’s vocal in 1953: “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.” Repeat with various body parts.

The Brits had their own version, The Hokey Cokey, which apparently might have warranted an R rating. See, the website of the Department of Mathematics, University of California, Riverside. (Who says math websites are boring?)

And to think that Trump wastes his time watching Fox News. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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