Everyday Semiotics

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What IS it all about?

Who knew? The Hokey Pokey, before it became a preschool sensation, was a coded invective against Catholicism.

From the Daily Telegraph:

Critics claim that Puritans composed the song in the 18th century in an attempt to mock the actions and language of priests leading the Latin mass.

Now politicians have urged police to arrest anyone using the song to "taunt" Catholics under legislation designed to prevent incitement to religious hatred.


According to the church, the song's title derives from the words "hocus pocus".

The phrase is said to be a Puritan parody of the Latin "hoc est enim corpus meum" or "this is my body" used by Catholic priests to accompany the transubstantiation during mass.

Several years ago, a canon from Wakefield Cathedral said the dance came from the days when priests celebrated mass with their backs to the congregation and whispered the Latin words of consecration with many hand movements.

Fascinating stuff. One question, though: How did the dance become known as the hokey-cokey in Britain while in America as the hokey-pokey it confroms more closely to its alleged hocus-pocus seme?

The Oxford English Dictionary buys the "hocus pocus" origin but discredits the "hoc est enim corpus meum" theory. Wikipedia gives top billing the Al Tabor theory, which has nothing to do with hocus pocus or the eucarist but an New Zealand ice cream variety consisting of vanilla with tofee.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Prurient economics

Dominating the news this week is Barack Obama's enormous package.

That is, the president's -- ahem -- $7 million economic stimulus package, approved today by the Senate.

It may just be the eternal fifth-grader in me, but I can't restrain the chortles whenever I read or hear about this package, its size and the stimulation it promises.

"Economic stimulus package" is shorthand for what the White House officially calls the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

William Safire chronicles the administration's movement from "stimulus" to "jolt" to "recovery" here. Yet in the media, "stimulus" stuck. Which makes sense: it's the most jargony of the bunch (and we know journalists like jargon). "Package" then clove to "stimulus." Alas, Safire hasn't yet examined "package."

Perhaps it takes a child of the '90s to appreciate the genital connotation of the term, which is only amplified when coupled with words like "stimulus" and "enormous." See an interesting meditation on the origins of the "package's" vulgar meaning here.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

Hair aboard Galactica

Clever little essay on the metamorphoses of Battlestar Galactica characters' facial hair.

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