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The meaning and origin of the expression: Jiggery-pokery


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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Jiggery-pokery'?

'Jiggery-pokery' is deceitful or underhand manipulation, either of physical objects, as in conjuring, or in dishonest trading.

It has a similar meaning to another reduplicated term associated with conjuring - hocus-pocus.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Jiggery-pokery'?

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Jiggery-pokery'.Jiggery-pokery is one of the oldest of reduplicated phrases in English. It is rather obscure now and not in common use by millennials. However, unlike many that have fallen by the wayside, like driggle-draggle (drab) and huff-snuff (a conceited man), it is still with us.

Actually, the expression is Scottish rather than English and derives from the Scots word jouk or jook, meaning to avoid a blow by dodging or ducking out of the way. In Scotland, from the 16th century onward joukery was used to mean trickery or underhand dealing.

Another Scottish word was coined in the early 17th century - pawky, meaning 'artful, roguish, quirky'. It didn't take long for the two words to join forces. The first known example of this liaison in print is found in George Stuart's exhaustively titled A Joco-Serious Discourse in two Dialogues, between a Northumberland-Gentleman, and his Tenant a Scotchman, 1686;

Deil fecht was it but Jewkrypawkry.
[Devil fight, it was trickery.]

The expression didn't arrive in England until the mid 19th century and it may well have stayed in Scotland but for the intervention of Sir Walter Scott.

Sir walter scottScott was among the most popular novelists of his day and highly influential in introducing words and phrases of Scottish origin to his English readership. In 1817 he published the novel The Black Dwarf, including the line:

There has been some jookery-paukery of Satan’s in a’ this!

When the expression began being used in England it took on its jiggery-pokery spelling, as in this early example from Long Ago: A Journal of Popular Antiquities, January 1873:

In common use amongst the lower orders, to give the idea of something not quite straightforward, e.g. a stableman giving it as his opinion when the "favourite" lost a race, that there had "been some jokery-pakery in the stable." The words have rather an Eastern sound. Sometimes I have heard it pronounced "jiggery-pokery," but that sounds more corrupt.

It appears that those in England who used 'jiggery-pokery' had with no knowledge of the Scots words jouk and pawky that it was formed from.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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