"high cockney rorum"

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Aug 10 03:19:31 UTC 2010

A new game.  [William Kennedy, convicted in Albany "of cheating in a game termed in the indictment "high cockney rorum, or drop the pigeon""]
New-York Evening Post, October 7, 1817, p. 2, col. 5

We of course recognize "high cockney rorum" as "cockalorum", and indeed it is covered in the OED:

cockalorum    3. hey (hay, hi, high) cockalorum: an ejaculation or exclamation; also a boy's game in which one set of players jump astride the others (who present a chain of ‘backs’), calling out Hey cockalorum, jig, jig, jig! (Hey cockalorum jig! is given as refrain of a popular song c 1800). high cockalorum jig: name of a game of cards.

1823 GALT Entail II. 260 (Jam.) I'll let no grass grow beneath my feet, till I hae gi'en your father notice of this loup-the-window and hey cockalorum-like love.
1840 BARHAM Ingol. Leg., Witches' Frolic, Now away! and away! without delay, Hey Cockalorum! my Broomstick gay!
1857 HUGHES Tom Brown I. iii, Prisoner's-base, rounders, high-cock-a-lorum, cricket, foot-ball, he was soon initiated into the delights of them all.
1860 Illustr. London News 7 Jan. 24/2 The little innocents, however, chiefly devote their energies to mud-pie manufacture and the games of Mulberry-bush, I-spy-I, Hi Cockolorum, Hopscotch, or Buttons.
1926 FOWLER Mod. Eng. Usage 164/2 Mock Latin: bonus, bogus, hocus-pocus, hi-cocalorum (hic, hoc, horum?).
1950 C. FRY Venus Observed 82 The seven seas, and the milky way And morning, and evening, and hi-cockalorum are in it.
1969 I. & P. OPIE Children's Games viii. 257 Croydon boys call it [sc. the game] not only ‘Hi Jimmy Knacker’, but ‘Bung the Barrel’, ‘Hi Cockalorum’, [etc.].

"high cockalorum jig: name of a game of cards" is exactly what we need here -- a game where pigeons can be cheated; but, oddly, none of the citations in OED refer to a card game, unless perhaps the Christopher Fry passage from 1950.  It doesn't seem likely, though.  All the rest deal with children's games, if they refer to anything -- in 1840 BARHAM &  1926 FOWLER it seems just a nonsense word, and at least 1823 GALT "hey cockalorum-like love" doesn't refer to a card game.
Besides, none of these are as early as 1817.

HDAS doesn't have this; Jonathon Green's slang dictionary cites OED for the children's game, doesn't mention a card game.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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