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Hocus Pocus

[ 2009-02-20 14:04]     字号 [] [] []  
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Hocus Pocus

Reader question:

The "Hocus Pocus" played by magician Liu Qian from Taiwan in the 2009 Spring Festival gala has attracted great attention and wide interests. Could you explain hocus pocus please?

My comments:

In addition to musical, hocus-pocus sounds magical, doesn't it? And the word does originate from the world of magic playing in Medieval Europe.

In the dictionary I have at hand, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, hocus-pocus is defined this way: "a method or belief that you think is based on false ideas: He thinks psychology is a load of hocus-pocus."

I'm afraid this explanation isn't as interesting as the sounding of the word itself. But then again, the dictionary I mentioned is a dictionary for beginners. One can't expect much from it when it comes to such an interesting word as hocus-pocus.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary online, on the other hand, gives a more detailed explanation: "1. sleigh of hand. 2. nonsense or sham used especially to cloak deception." And it gives etymology (word origin): "probably from hocus pocus, imitation of a Latin phrase used by jugglers".

This explanation gets to the nitty-gritty of hocus-pocus – exotic but meaningless talk by the magician to hoodwink the audience. Watch any magician at work and we'll notice that he sometimes talks incessantly while performing tricks, using hocus-pocus (ear-catching words, eye-catching hand/body movements) to distract our attention while he gets a trick done.

Hocus pocus, while the magicians fool us. Exactly. The word captures the nonsensical nature of the magician's talk on stage and was incorporated into the English language probably just on the strength of the rhyming sound of it. Hocus-pocus, lovely.

Well, knowing its origin (from performing magicians in Europe), I'm sure you will find hocus pocus easier to remember. You'll also learn where to put it into use.

Go to Zhang Xin's column



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.