“Hokey-Pokey” means a group circle dance with a synchronized shaking of the limbs in turn, accompanied by a simple song. It is also used to mean deception or trickery.

Here’s the ‘simple song,’ which seems to symbolize having a good time:

“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 it all around,

That’s what it’s all about…”

Where did it come from?

Some say Britain. In 1942, Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy created a dance, and an instructional song to go with it, called “The Hokey Cokey.” In that same year, composer Al Tabor wrote a participation dance song called “The Hokey Pokey,” which he claimed came from the London ice cream vendors of his youth, called “Hokey Pokey Men.” Both dances were written to entertain Canadian troops stationed in London.

Others say the US. In 1946, two Pennsylvania musicians—Robert Degan and Joe Brier—recorded “The Hokey-Pokey Dance” to entertain summer vacationers at Poconos Mountains resorts. In 1949, Charles Mack, Taft Baker, and Larry Laprise wrote “The Hokey Pokey” to entertain skiers at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. 

But the origins go back further than the 1940s. Similar dances and songs were recorded in Robert Chambers’s Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1826); other versions have been traced to 17th-century minstrels. Some argue that “The Hokey Pokey” (or “Cokey”) is a corruption of “hocus pocus,” the term often used by magicians.

As to the other meaning, of deception, cheating, or underhand activity, it was first noted in the UK by James Halliwell-Phillipps in 1847.

Have I ever danced the hokey-pokey? No, but it sounds like fun.

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