This may be apocryphal, but it sounds good anyhow...

My high school Latin teacher had an etymology for this magic word. According to him, it derives from the phrase hoc est corpus -- "This is the body", spoken during the Catholic Mass at the moment of transubstantiation. The average peasant in the back of the church, not knowing a lick of Latin, just knows that something important and magical is going on when the priest holds up the Host and speaks these words. Over time, the phrase is corrupted into "hocus pocus", while retaining its association with magic.

In fact, hocus pocus does not appear to derive either from hoc est enim corpus meum1 in the mass, nor from hic opus, hoc labor est2, which is in fact from book 6 of Vergil's Aeneid, and describes the escape from hell.

It's from hax pax deus adimax3, a sixteenth-century quack-doctors' chant used to deceive the illiterate populace. The etymology site www.wordorigins.org is as unenthusiastic about 'hoc est corpus' as my other sources, but offers 'hocus pocus, tontus talontus, vade celeriter jubeo'4 as a seventeenth-century juggler's patter. The modern word hoax may derive from 'hocus pocus', as may the nineteenth-century expression 'holus bolus', meaning 'all at once'.

Sources: Phillip Howard, Words Fail Me, chapter 14: 'Lemmings'. Also found in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology.


1: 'For this is my body'
2: 'Here is the task, and this is the labour'
3: Gibberish: 'hax' is meaningless; 'pax' means 'peace'; 'deus' means 'god'; and 'adimax' looks like part of the verb adimere meaning to throw away, but isn't.
4: More gibberish. 'Vade celeriter jubeo' means roughly 'I order you to get out of the way, fast', but none of the other words are Latin at all.

The author, Kurt Vonnegut, chose a few unorthodox methods of writing Hocus Pocus.

Instead of using the more conventional method of writing on a typewriter, PC, or perhaps using good 'ol uniform pieces of paper, Vonnegut wrote the book in pencil on whatever scrap of paper he could find (from brown wrapping paper to the backs of business cards). There are lines in the book which separate where one scrap ended and the next began. The shorter the passage, the smaller the scrap.

He did number the pages sequentially so that the editor knew what went where. He also started certain words in capital letters, which any grammar-respecting editor would have immediately put in lowercase.

There are several tombstones in the book which feature words on them (for example: OK, I admit it. It really was a whorehouse). The author originally drew them himself, but they didn't transfer well onto a printed page, and had to be typeset instead.

It must have been the editor's (not to mention the publisher's) nightmare to see so many "creative liberties" in this book. The editor himself sums it up the best: "To virtually all of his idiosyncrasies I, after much thought, have applied what another author once told me was the most sacred word in a great editor's vocabulary. That word is 'stet'."

A platform game for the PC developed by Moonlite Software and published by Apogee Software in June 1994. It was/is shareware: the first episode (Time Tripping) is free, the remaining three (Shattered Worlds, "Warped and Weary" and Destination Home) are only available in the registered version.

A plot... Hocus, who lives in the Land of Lattice has to prove his worth to join the Council of Wizards by completing various tasks for Terexin, leader of the council. He needs to join the council in order to marry his true love, Popopa.

The gameplay in each level consists simply of collecting all of the crystals in the level - there are no other specific goals, but the levels are engineered that collecting the crystals involves completing the whole level (collecting keys, defeating monsters, etc). Once you've got them all, lots of sparks appear, you warp out, and up comes the level end screen with points bonuses and the such (further details are below).

Lightning! The only weapon Hocus has is his Infinite Pocket Sized Lightning spell. As well as being used to attack monsters, the bolts produced can also destroy certain types of blocks. This spell can be rather annoying, as without powerups there can only be one bolt of lightning on the screen at a time, which means you must wait for the bolt to hit your target before firing the next one.

Nor is this the only annoying thing about the game; it is quite easy to get stuck on levels with no way of collecting the rest of the crystals, especially when the blue warp potions are used to warp you to another part of the level. Other potion colours are black (laser shots), white (rapid fire), brown (super jump) and green (health).

While the green potions are common, the other potions are rare and are normally only in places where they're needed. For instance, in one level you can only get to a certain crystal using a super jump potion - leading to the aforementioned problem of not being able to get that crystal if you mess up the jump.

The music in the game was damn good.. there were 12 different songs, all rather cool, to the extent that I was looking forward to the next level for the sake of the music. The graphics looked damn cool too, in their VGA goodness.

Arrr, Treasure! There are only four items of treasure in this game; the ruby, the goblet, the diamond and the crown. Their sole function is to give you extra points - if you collect every item on the level you get bonus points, and you also get bonus points for completing the level within a certain time limit. The true challenge is obtaining both bonuses at the same time.


System Requirements: VGA, 585k of RAM, hard drive. Supports: various sound cards, Gravis Gamepad, joystick.

Considering that most of Vonnegut's novels reveal most of the plot near the beginning anyway, I think that it is hard to "spoil" one of his novels by revealing plot points. This novel is written in that same way. But, there are some other minor things in this writeup that you may not want to read if you are a purist of some sort. But I don't think so.

Hocus Pocus, the novel, was published in 1990. Here, Vonnegut creates a false America for the reader. This America shares a past with our America, but its future is radically different. As with all of his novels, satire is used extensively. In fact, Vonnegut satirizes nearly everything you can think of in our society. Race relations, criminal justice, war, peace, marriage, the economy, capitalism, and more. This isn't terribly surprising. He writes in short segments and tends to digress. This is also not very surprising. The ambiguity that Vonnegut creates in this novel as to the veracity and possibility of the events he describes is a jump from many of his other novels.

Some background on the America of this novel. The country has been largely re-segregated and stratified along economic and social boundaries. Foreign corporations have all but taken over the country, and gas must be bought from a Mafiosi named Guido behind a Japanese-owned cinema complex for an outrageous price. Actually, the Mafia is one of few businesses in America still run by Americans.

The narrator of the story is Eugene Debs Hartke, a womanizing Vietnam veteran who wants his epitaph to be the number of women he has slept with. Coincidentally, this number is the same as the number of people he has killed. He is, as you may have guessed, named after socialist leader Eugene V. Debs. The first part of the novel consists of him telling of all of the things that have happened to him, and the history of the area in which he currently lives.

Through Hartke, Vonnegut discusses each of the very real problems of society (listed above) in a very unrealistic manner. Still, the situations are not so unrealistic as to be disbelieved. Rather, they lie on the fringe of reality.

Hocus Pocus examines race relations through a fictional Supreme Court decision that determined that it was in fact a violation of a prisoner’s civil rights to force him to stay in a prison in which his was the minority race. Thus, the prisons become totally segregated by race, but unfortunately, "many jurisdictions did not have enough Oriental or American Indian criminals to make separate institutions economically feasible. . . .Under such circumstances, said the Court, Indians and/or Orientals should be made honorary Whites, and treated accordingly." To make room for the rapidly expanding prison system, battleships and nuclear submarines are converted into floating prisons.

Hocus Pocus contains the ultimate in fabricated reality in the form of the GRIOT™ machine. This is a machine, which, when given the details of a person’s life up to a certain point, predicts what will happen to them. It is surprisingly accurate. This man-made reality is an excellent tool for satire, but more fundamentally, provides a forum for the reader to question how real his own world is. The satire is, as usual, unmistakable. A group of black maximum-security prisoners escape and take over the college at which Eugene is employed. Eugene shows them how to use the machine, and they are upset with the results:

The escaped convicts smashed up the one in the Pavilion soon after I showed them how to work it. . . .One by one they punched in their race and age and what their parents did, if they knew, and how long they’d gone to school and what drugs they’d taken and so on, and GRIOT™ sent them straight to jail to serve long sentences.
Vonnegut uses GRIOT™ to further satirize race: the world is blatantly racist even in a fictitious reality. "If you leave out race, for instance, it flashes the words 'ethnic origin' on its screen, and stops cold. If it doesn’t know that, it can't go on." The idea of manufacturing a false reality which still contains the harsh realities of actual reality is typical of Vonnegut, and an interesting one indeed. It is the greatest confusion of reality in Hocus Pocus.

The college that Hartke teaches (and is later imprisoned) at is Tarkington College, which was founded by a rich dyslexic man. The college develops into an institution where the rich can send their learning disabled (or just plain stupid) children to ensure that they will be successful. Despite the fact that many of the students can't read, the college library is huge, with 800,000 volumes, "and almost every book written for or about the ruling class." Ultimately, Hartke is fired after he is overheard "polluting" the students' minds by talking about philosophy and social studies, subjects that he isn’t qualified to teach. The nail in the coffin is a recording made of Hartke after he had too much to drink, when he found a group of students and began telling them some of what his socialist grandfather told him. He is forced out by a conservative demagogue (and father of a student) who believes that Eugene is Anti-American and threatens to denounce the college on television.

Once again, the reader has to decide for himself about whether what has occurred is possible, or not. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the "ruling class" would create a college exclusively for their moronic sons and daughters. And it isn’t hard to believe that the "ruling class" would force out a teacher who was "perverting" the minds of children by expanding their horizons. At the same time, the reader believes that he lives in a world where such a thing wouldn’t happen. Vonnegut tells the reader what he thinks of the ruling class, but does not say whether he deems them to be actually capable of the things that they do in Hocus Pocus.

The reality of the ruling class is particularly ambiguous. They are so interested in furthering their own interests that they slowly sell off most of their assets to foreign companies. These companies eventually leave, realizing that America is a lost cause. The wealthy Americans transfer their wealth entirely to paper, leaving them with no material wealth. Most take their liquid assets and place them in the stock of a company called Microsecond Arbitrage. Microsecond Arbitrage purports to buy the goods earmarked for the downtrodden, and then auction these goods in the third world at enormous profit. Most rich people in America have money in the company, including many members of the board of trustees of Tarkington College. "As it happened, he was on the verge of losing his fortune, which was nothing but paper, in Microsecond Arbitrage, Incorporated. . . .He was high as a kite on printouts describing brilliant trades he had made . . . Microsecond Arbitrage was his angel dust, his LSD, his heroin, his jug of Thunderbird wine, his cocaine." The problem for these social elites turns out to be that Microsecond Arbitrage is a scam. It consists of nothing more than a few computers hooked together, falsifying documents about trades. This is revealed, and the company folds, leaving them with nothing. In much the same manner as he does with GRIOT™, Vonnegut includes an element of the lack of reality in our own world. The elite only thought that they knew what was real. Furthermore, he criticizes the social elite for trusting in a reality as false as securities and liquid assets.

And, as CrashMercury says, this novel was written in a strange way. But, he has one detail wrong. The Editor's Note was in actuality written by Vonnegut, as indicated by the K.V. at the end of it. This continues the ruse of distorting reality. Here, the story is told in the form of a rambling retrospective by the main character and first-person narrator. Frequent lines separate the short thoughts, which Vonnegut explains in the "Editor’s Note" as the result of the "author" (here, Vonnegut implies that the true author was Hartke) scribbling the story down on any scrap of paper he could find in the prison library. The sections range from one word (usually, "Cough."), to several paragraphs, but generally don’t last longer than one page. The original review in the New York Times describes the narration as:

...a retrospective first-person narrative in which several time and story lines gradually converge. It is told by one Eugene Debs Hartke and purportedly written in prison on scraps of paper, each scrap a thought, story or digression unto itself - a form ideally suited to Mr. Vonnegut’s thumbnail essayistic bent and his high-speed forward- and reverse-narrative time travel.
Upon first reading this Editor’s Note, it is easy to interpret it as actually being from the editor, as CrashMercury did. As I said, the only indications otherwise are the initials, and the use of "Eugene Debs Hartke" to refer to the author.

The short sections aren't the only strange thing about the writing of the novel. The Editor's Note reveals that the random capitalization of letters was intentional. Another interesting thing about the novel is its strange way of printing numbers.

This is 1 example of how numbers are printed.
One other thing: if a number starts a sentence, it is spelled out.
Oh, and Hartke, the narrator, never swears.

This is a great book, and next to Slaughterhouse-Five, it is my favorite by Vonnegut. I highly reccomend it.

Some of my favorite quotes:

"The lesson I myself learned over and over again when teaching at the college and then the prison was the uselessness of information to most people, except as entertainment. If facts weren't funny or scary, or couldn't make you rich, the heck with them."
"I think William Shakespeare was the wisest human being I ever heard of. To be perfectly frank, though, that's not saying much."


"Bergeron's epitaph for the planet, I remember, which he said should be carved in big letters in a wall of the Grand Canyon for the flying saucer people to find, was this:
WE COULD HAVE SAVED IT,
BUT WE WERE TOO DOGGONE CHEAP.
Only he didn't say 'doggone.'"
Hoc est enim corpus meum
This is itself my body

The evolution of language from one generation to the next appears to be responsible for our current use of this mangled Latin. It seems unfortunate that as time goes on, the magic words we learned as children metamorphose into monikers of deceit and ignorance.

It is likely that other mangled Latin phrases like "Hax pax deus amidax" intervened in the evolution of this term, but a widespread practice involving Latin seems to be a necessary precursor. The Latin mass started being used around 600 AD according to Joseph Zacchello (in Secrets of Romanism, p 210) and likely supplied the accurate Latin from which these manglings were created. If someone can find another prevalent use of Latin that sounds more like hocus pocus, msg me, and I'll introduce it in this writeup. The Latin of Virgil was not widely circulated as speech and so does not offer nearly as much potential for mangling.

When man discovered the general mechanisms by which fire exists, or by which trees grow, or by which the sun rises and sets, many of us decided that there were no spirits there any more. Apparently there is something that makes people feel that some degree of mystery is required for a thing to have a spirit. Fortunately, there is and will always be some degree of mystery in every single piece of existence, but for whatever reason, there's a point at which we stop seeing it. This seems to me to be the great tragedy of the frontal cortex. Of course we don't believe that understanding what makes our kids tick removes their souls. Why do we do this to non-human things?

The Latin from which hocus pocus appears to have derived is a quote of what Jesus Christ said at the Last Supper. Religions argue about whether he was speaking figuratively or literally. While I understand the two sides of the argument, I do not see the point of it. The man certainly shared himself with people and philosophers still argue about what a person is. Ultimately, I think the transubstantiation debate comes down to an argument about institutionalizing the idea of mystery. Maybe that isn't a bad idea.

Maybe hocus pocus is more than it's cracked up to be.

The term is now used as a cliche magical utterance, probably never used "seriously" by magicians pretending to do magic (or, if you like, actually doing magic). In fact, hocus pocus usually indicates deceit or some other kind of action based on ignorance. For example, some people would chuckle at the idea that parts of the Latin mass sound like hocus pocus because they believe that the church is guilty of great deceit. "hocus pocus" can also refer to processes that are not supposed to be understood by those that use them. This gives the term applications in religion, magic, computers, and technology.

From hocus pocus we get the Hokey Pokey which is something you do, according to the song, and then you turn yourself around. Doing the Hokey Pokey usually means singing the song and doing the dance, but during the song, it must mean something else because otherwise the instructions lead to infinite (or at least fatal) recursion. If you watch people singing and dancing, and you try to use their behavior as an indicator of what doing the hokey pokey means, it appears to mean nothing since they don't really do anything between putting a limb or other appendage in and turning themselves around.

Outside the context of the song, doing the hokey pokey often means sex, drugs, or other some other illicit activity. Often, such illicit activities have the kind of effect on a person that amounts to turning oneself around, or at least in a new direction, at least for a while. In this sense, the similarity to receiving communion is apparent since this sacrament is believed to transform the receiver. Nevertheless, doing the hokey pokey has more obvious effects.

It seems clear then, that the etymological path of this term goes from the sacred to the profane. I suppose this bothers some people, but it pleases me since I believe profanity is the opposite of the far more damaging silent anger. I wonder how prevalent such a path is among the evolution of things that evolve. Perhaps one might say that this is the hocus pocus of evolution.
Disney comedy, released in 1993. It was directed by Kenny Ortega, with a screenplay by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, based on a story by Garris and David Kirschner. The stars included Bette Midler as Winnie Sanderson, Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson, Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson, Omri Katz as Max Dennison, Thora Birch as Dani Dennison, and Jason Marsden as the voice of Binx the cat. Garry Marshall and Penny Marshall had cameo appearances.

The movie focuses on the Sanderson sisters, who were evil, child-eating witches in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693. Early in the movie, they suck the soul out of a little girl and transform her brother into a black cat, then they're hanged for their many crimes. However, they're able to come back from the grave one Halloween night in the 1990s. They hatch a plan to give themselves eternal life by stealing the lifeforces of all the children in modern Salem. The only people opposing them are the kids in the Dennison family and the black cat, still alive after over 300 years.

This is a really awful movie. You may find yourself tempted to rent it for your kids if you want a family-friendly, semi-ghoulish movie for Halloween viewing. Resist that temptation. Please don't force your children to watch something this lousy.

Here's the stuff that works well: Sarah Jessica Parker has a number of good moments as the youngest, sexiest, and possibly the dimmest of the witches. The scene where the witches steal the little girl's soul is plenty creepy and unsettling, and for a brief moment, you start to think that maybe Disney made a real, live horror movie (Pseudo_Intellectual reminds me that Disney has made a grade-A horror film: 1983's "Something Wicked This Way Comes"). Also, the scene where the kids try to convince a police officer that the Sanderson sisters have come back to life has a humorous twist to it, and the Marshalls' cameos are pretty funny. The movie also does a pretty good job of recreating the spooky-but-silly mood I seem to associate with the Halloweens of my childhood.

Aside from that, there's nothing to recommend it. Midler and Najimy are both monumentally irritating, and all three of the witches seem to play their parts by shrieking. Katz is wholesome and earnest in ways that only a Disney character can be wholesome and earnest. The special effects are rarely convincing; the worst are probably all the cat's effects and the zombie that the witches raise to chase the children. Marsden plays Binx as urgently, wholesomely, and earnestly British, which, frankly, makes me want to rewind the scene where the cat gets flattened by a truck over and over and over. There's also a scene where the witches sing "I've Put a Spell on You", which also irritates on a number of levels. Why would witches who can't figure out anything about 1990s America know a song written in the 20th century? Do Bette Midler's fans want to hear her sing badly enough to inflate the anemic box office on a kids movie?

In the end, there's just too much overacting, too many convenient plot holes and logic leaps, too many lame effects, sketchy characterizations, bad hair, and Disneyfied niceness. Don't watch it. Don't make your kids watch it. They may not forgive you.

Some research from the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com)

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