Magicians' words

Mark A. Mandel mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Fri Apr 30 14:36:32 UTC 2004

I have read -- though I can't vouch for its veracity -- that "hocus
pocus" comes from "hocus pocus filiocus", as either a corruption or
intentional parody of the words from the Catholic Mass, "hoc est corpus
Filii" 'this is the body of the Son'.  The only relevant Google hit for
"hocus pocus filiocus" is another reference to this putative etymology
(, scarcely better documented
than my own:

Most scholars feel that the expression hocus-pocus arose in the time of
King James I, when a magician who came to be named by that phrase lived
and practiced his trickery. It is thought that he would sling absurd
Latin and babble mock Latin as a distraction while playing his
deceptions, e.g. "Hocus pocus, tontus talontus, vade celeriter jubio."
Most think the hocus-pocus was a corruption of the first words of the
consecration in the Catholic Mass, "Hoc est corpus filii", because in
Denmark and in Sweden is still heard "hocus-pocus-filiocus." And later,
this became a pseudonym for several Tudor conjurors, named after the
original master. And, as you may have guessed, our word hoax is thought
to come from the hocus.

-- Mark A. Mandel

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