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[hoh-kuh s-poh-kuh s] /ˈhoʊ kəsˈpoʊ kəs/
a meaningless chant or expression used in conjuring or incantation.
a juggler's trick; sleight of hand.
trickery; deception.
unnecessarily mysterious or elaborate activity or talk to cover up a deception, magnify a simple purpose, etc.
verb (used with object), hocus-pocused, hocus-pocusing or (especially British) hocus-pocussed, hocus-pocussing.
to play tricks on or with.
verb (used without object), hocus-pocused, hocus-pocusing or (especially British) hocus-pocussed, hocus-pocussing.
to perform tricks; practice trickery or deception.
Origin of hocus-pocus
1615-25; pseudo-Latin rhyming formula used by jugglers and magicians
3. deceit, dishonesty, hanky-panky, double-dealing. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for hocus-pocus
Historical Examples
  • One more cabalistic performance and the hocus-pocus was ended.

    The Witches of New York Q. K. Philander Doesticks
  • They regard it fixedly as hocus-pocus, childish if not wicked.

    Tongues of Conscience Robert Smythe Hichens
  • But it's plain to be seen there's no hocus-pocus about this thing.

    The Diamond Pin Carolyn Wells
  • Theres your own prestige too, and all the hocus-pocus and mummery that you know how to work on them.

    The Exiles of Faloo Barry Pain
  • I did so, and he began to perform all sorts of hocus-pocus over me.

  • His holiness made his hocus-pocus with the greatest devotion.

  • Only the witch-doctors could visit him, and their visits were official and hedged about with much flummery and hocus-pocus.

    Adventures in Swaziland Owen Rowe O'Neil
  • What the bewildered members of the Brigade made of all this hocus-pocus I had no idea.

    They Call Me Carpenter Upton Sinclair
  • Invisible, he could assist Mystiffio with the hocus-pocus and really produce some wonderful effects.

    The Chameleon Man William P. McGivern
  • There was something behind the hocus-pocus; something that moved one's curiosity and tempted one to rash experiment.

    Wyndham's Pal Harold Bindloss
British Dictionary definitions for hocus-pocus


trickery or chicanery
mystifying jargon
an incantation used by conjurors or magicians when performing tricks
conjuring skill or practice
verb -cuses, -cusing, -cused, -cuses, -cussing, -cussed
to deceive or trick (someone)
Word Origin
C17: perhaps a dog-Latin formation invented by jugglers
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for hocus-pocus

1620s, Hocas Pocas, common name of a magician or juggler, a sham-Latin invocation used in tricks, probably based on a perversion of the sacramental blessing from the Mass, Hoc est corpus meum "This is my body." The first to make this speculation on its origin apparently was English prelate John Tillotson (1630-1694).

I will speak of one man ... that went about in King James his time ... who called himself, the Kings Majesties most excellent Hocus Pocus, and so was called, because that at the playing of every Trick, he used to say, Hocus pocus, tontus tabantus, vade celeriter jubeo, a dark composure of words, to blinde the eyes of the beholders, to make his Trick pass the more currantly without discovery. [Thomas Ady, "A Candle in the Dark," 1655]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for hocus-pocus



Sleight-of-hand; trickery; monkey business

[1694+; originally a term for a juggler, and probably derived fr a juggler's spoken formula imitating the Church Latin phrase hoc est corpus, ''this is the body'']

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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