Sunday, July 11, 2021

You Learn the Funniest Things When Reading, by Karla Stover



 I just finished Duet in Diamonds: The flamboyant Saga of Lillian Russell and Diamond Jim Brady in America's Gilded Age. Both characters are in the book I'm working on so I was looking for info about them. That's where I came across hokey pokey. 
When I was growing up, the hokey pokey was a silly dance for kids, but now I know it's more than that. Hokey Pokey has a history. Who knew? It actually dates to 1857. According to, in 1857, two sisters from Canterbury, England who were visiting Bridgewater, NH, brought a little English/Scottish ditty with accompanying gestures across the pond.  The song is thought to be based on the Scottish “Hinkum-Booby.” (“Booby” here referring to the “stupid” definition, rather than the more modern alternative definition you might think of when shaking things about.) The song went a little something like this: 

I put my right hand in,
I put my right hand out,
In out, in out.
shake it all about.

Now, skip ahead eighty-three years when, "during the Blitz in London, a Canadian officer suggested writing an action party song to English bandleader Al Tabor. The song’s title, “The Hokey Pokey,” was supposedly in homage to an ice cream vendor from Tabor’s childhood, who would call out “Hokey pokey penny a lump.  Have a lick make you jump.”  In this case, “hokey pokey” was supposedly a slang at the time for ice cream and the ice cream seller was called the “hokey pokey man”. That's how the term was referred to in the memoir I read--it was in reference to a New York ice cream vendor. That fits with New Zealand where a hokey pokey is an ice cream flavor consisting of plain vanilla ice cream with small, solid lumps of honeycomb toffee. (Hokey pokey is the New Zealand term for honeycomb toffee.)

Of course, claims abound.

Some say "the song originated with Scottish Puritans in the UK as an anti-Catholic taunt. A “hokey cokey was supposed to be a jab at the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the belief that the bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ during the Mass."

More recently, though, if the 1940s can still be considered "recent" , Gerry Hoey, a British band-
leader claimed authorship under the title "The Hoey Oka."

In 1944, two musicians from Scranton PA named Robert Degan and Joe Brier made a record of a song called “The Hokey Pokey Dance.” It provided amusement and entertainment to the summer crowds at Poconos resorts. 

Four years later, "Charles Mack, Taft Baker and Larry Laprise, a group known as The Ram Trio, made their own version of the song, which is closer to the version we all know and love today." When Degan and Brier heard about it, they accused Laprise for "ripping off their song" and sued. "Laprise’s lawyers must have been top-notch, because even though his version of the song was released after Degan and Brier’s, Laprise walked away with the rights to the “Hokey Pokey Dance.”"

I want to work a hokey pokey ice cream vendor into my book, but the use will require an explanation for the reader.

No matter. I wouldn't have learned this delightful history if I wasn't a reader myself.


  1. Love learning strange facts when reading. Good luck with your coming book

  2. It's always fascinating to learn the roots of our familiar things. Thanks, Karla, for sharing this tidbit of knowledge. I'll never think of the Hokey Pokey dance the same way.

  3. I like learning real facts while reading a fictional novel. I would never have associated hokey pokey with ice cream LOLOL


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