Hocus Pocus (magic)

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Hocus Pocus or hocus-pocus is a generic term that may be derived from an ancient language and is currently used by magicians, usually the magic words spoken when bringing about some sort of change. It was once a common term for a magician, juggler, or other similar entertainer.

The origins of the term remain obscure. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the term originates from hax pax max Deus adimax, a pseudo-Latin phrase used as a magic formula by conjurors.[1] Some believe it originates from a corruption or parody of the Roman Catholic liturgy of the Eucharist, which contains the phrase "Hoc est corpus meum", meaning "This is my body.".[2] This explanation goes back to speculations by the Anglican prelate John Tillotson, who wrote in 1694:

In all probability those common juggling words of hocus pocus are nothing else but a corruption of hoc est corpus, by way of [...] imitation of the priests of the Church of Rome in their [...] Transubstantiation.[3]

This is substantiated by the fact that in the Netherlands, the words Hocus pocus are usually accompanied by the additional words pilatus pas, and this is said to be based on a post-Reformation parody of the traditional Catholic ritual of transubstantiation during mass, being a Dutch corruption of the Latin words "Hoc est corpus", meaning "this is (my) body," and the credo "sub Pontio Pilato passus et sepultus est", meaning "under Pontius Pilate he suffered and was buried".[4] In a similar way the phrase is in Scandinavia usually accompanied by filiokus, a corruption of the term filioque, from the Nicene Creed, meaning "and from the Son" (variant spelling "filipokus" is common in Russia and certain other post-Soviet states; also the word for stage trick itself in Russian, fokus, is derived from hocus pocus).

Others believe that it is an appeal to the Norse folklore magician Ochus Bochus:

Hocus Pocus: Words of pseudomagical import. According to Sharon Turner in The History of the Anglo-Saxons (4 vols., 1799-1805), they were believed to be derived from "Ochus Bochus," a magician and demon of the north.[5]

Or it may simply be imitation Latin with no meaning, made up to impress people:

I will speak of one man... that went about in King James his time... who called himself, The Kings Majesties most excellent Hocus Pocus, and so was he called, because that at the playing of every Trick, he used to say, Hocus pocus, tontus talontus, vade celeriter jubeo, a dark composure of words, to blinde the eyes of the beholders, to make his Trick pass the more currently without discovery, because when the eye and the ear of the beholder are both earnestly busied, the Trick is not so easily discovered, nor the Imposture discerned.

Thomas Ady, A Candle in the Dark, 1656[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Compact Oxford English Dictionary. [1] http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/hocuspocus
  2. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary [2] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hocus-pocus
  3. ^ Random House Words@Random: The Mavens' Word of the Day [3] http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19991007; see Talk:Hocus Pocus (magic) for full quotation
  4. ^ In de Kou, Godfried Bomans en Michel van der Plas over hun roomse jeugd en hoe het hun verging, Amsterdam, 1969
  5. ^ Answers.com [4] http://www.answers.com/topic/hocus-pocus
  6. ^ The Phrase Finder. [5] http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/hocus-pocus.html