We Do the Hokey-Pokey ...
by Wayne Crump
TSL Extra, Issue #21

Ah, we all remember those fond days at college. The football, the popcorn, and the cheers. Most of all we remember, with fond memories, one specific cheer echoing through our mind, "Hokie Hokie Hokie Hi, Tech Tech VPI ..."

Now most of us generally know about the "Old Hokie" cheer, and how it came to be. If you donít, you might want to refer to hokiesportsinfo.com's What's a Hokie? Page for an explanation. That link quotes the entire cheer and gives the VT Athletic Department version of how it came to be.

Quickly summarizing it, O. M. Stull wrote the cheer in 1896, in response to a contest. He claimed that the word "Hokey" was a "product of his imagination," and he used it because it "sounded good." None of the Stull creation story went down into print until a significant time period had passed.

Superficially, I had always assumed that this story might be factual, but always thought there was something uncomfortable about it. Why would the board pick a cheer with nonsensical words? Why would Techís alternative nickname (Gobbler was preferred until Bill Dooley's reign as AD in the late 70's and early 80's) be selected from a word that has virtually no meaning at all? That really doesnít make a lot of sense.

Memory does play tricks. Both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby claim to have created the Fantastic Four comic book characters alone, and in a vacuum. At least 5 people claim to have created the DC character Green Lantern. I have met most of these people and have felt that they all believe that their claims are sincerely true. However, some of them have to be wrong.

This brings us to Charles Panati. Mr. Panati came waltzing into my life in Christmas of 2001.

Charles Panati wrote a wonderful book about how the junk in our every day life originated and came to be. In his Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things (Harper & Row, 1987), you can learn the original source of those important things we all cannot live without, like forks, Velcro, ice cream, and zippers. It was the ice cream on pages 418 to 420 that was so disturbing for this particular Techman.

Frozen Ices reached Europe from the orient in the 1500ís. Ice cream as we know it would not exist until much more recently and would only reach the masses in London and New York in the 1870ís. This happened when Italian Ice Cream vendors migrated to England and the New World.

According to Pinati, there was a shout that they used from their street stands, "Ecco un Poco," or "Hereís a little." Since the children had no idea exactly what these vendors were saying, they used the similar-sounding English words of "Hokey Pokey."

The "Hokey Pokey man" was a common name for these street vendors until the early 20th century. The term was replaced when someone found a way to put ice cream on a stick, and thus the "Good Humor Man" was born. To substantiate this, Mr. Panati presents a wood cut from 1868 of a "Hokey Pokey" man.

This is quite interesting, because the term "hokey pokey" sort of already existed in the language. Street magicians were commonplace in the 1600ís through the 1800ís, and they invented the words "Hocus Pocus." The earliest documentation of that phrase is 1655, and it was in common use by 1691.

The word hocus is the source of the word hoax. Cheap, fake magic became commonly known as hokey pokey, a derogatory variation on hocus pocus. The children that were misunderstanding those Italian ice cream vendors were probably just using a term that they had already heard elsewhere.

So how does this relate to Mr. Stull? Mr. Stull would have grown up during the period of about 1878 to 1894. Even if we allow for a significant amount of time for phrase to travel, the term "hokey pokey man" would have reached Virginia from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. I have located the term in a New York publication dated 1868, and in a Philadelphia publication of 1871. By the late 1870ís the term had to have migrated as far south as parts of Virginia.

This brings us directly to our cheer. There is little chance that O. M. Stull had never heard the term "Hokey" prior to writing the cheer. There is also virtually no chance that he would have had any idea as to what that word meant, nor how it would be spelled. But one fact is for certain, he definitely did not make the term up. It was already in use during that period of time, and had been so for 15 to 20 years.

The term was also poised to fall out of common use in the very near future. So why has the word survived at all? Officially the word hokey makes a reference, to "noticeably contrived [back to hocus pocus], corny, and artificial." I have always found it one of those words that is extremely hard to explain to someone that doesnít already know its definition. Sort of like the words "Catawampus" in Virginia, or "Two-Four" in Canada.

The word still keeps hanging around, mainly because of Ray Anthonyís silly song "The Hokey Pokey" written in the 1920ís or 1930ís. Maybe if the song could just go away, then we wouldnít look so silly using "Hokie." We might also note that all the variants of "hokey" use the "i". These include "hokiest," "hokiness," and "hokier."

I guess we just have to sit down and claim to be the "Fighting Italian Ice Cream Vendors." And let us not forget, we are the Misspelled Fighting Italian Ice Cream Vendors, at that.

In closing, today the probably-misspelled variant of the word "Hokie" only seems to relate to Virginia Tech Athletics. However, I did a word search on "hokey" in AltaVista. It was interesting, because several alternative searches popped up. They included "hokey-pokey," humor, and ice cream.

Now if you think we have trouble with hokey (or hokie), we just might like to take a quick look at our brethren, the Wahoos.

I can find four older references for Wahoo that might indicate a source for the name. First, the Wahoo is a game fish of the Caribbean, especially the southern Caribbean. Personally I find it unlikely that they are the Fighting Caribbean Game Fishes (actually funnier than DSU [but not quite as funny as Misspelled Fighting Italian Ice Cream Vendors]).

The second is Chief Wahoo, mascot of the Cleveland Indians. Try as I might, I do not know when Chief Wahoo came to be. The third is a comic strip that started in 1936 and eventually evolved into Steve Roper. Big Chief Wahoo has one major distinction: he graced the cover of the first newsstand comic book ever printed.

The last choice is a board game called, Wahoo. It is a version of Chinese checkers that is always played around a figure of a native American. I have seen copies of Wahoo on eBay whose owners insist date back to the Victorian era.

Except for the game fish, all the other uses of the word have one common thread. They are a less than complementary term involving Native Americans. Eventually I would think that social pressure may force Virginia back to being solely the Cavaliers. Such pressure is already being applied to the Cleveland franchise. Candidly, why they traded Cavaliers for Wahoos is beyond me, anyway.

 

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