There have been claims by some Catholic authorities that the words to this British participation dance song were written by Protestants around 400 years ago to mock the Latin Mass. They maintain that the phrase "hokey cokey" dates back to Reformation England and is a corruption of "Hoc est enim corpus meum," which are the Latin words thath the priest said over the bread in the Mass, meaning "This is my body."
The song's critics add that other lyrics of this song also contain a sinister sectarian message. They explain that "And you turn around" refers to the action of the priest after consecrating the bread and the wine. Because in Reformation England the altar was up against the east wall of the church, the priest had his back to the people, so he had to turn around to show the consecrated bread to them. Furthermore, "Knees bend" refers to the priest extending his arms during the Eucharistic Prayer, which consecrates the bread and wine.
In an article in The Sunday Times
January 11 2009 the grandson of one of the alleged composers of this song, Al Tabor defended the right-hand-in, right-hand-out ditty against claims that it mocks the language and actions of Catholic priests. Alan Balfour said his band-leader grandfather wrote the words and music in the 1940s to raise people's spirits during the Blitz and rather than poking fun at the Mass, the song is all about ice cream. He explained in the article that Tabor wrote the song while working at Murray's Cabaret Club in Soho, London. Balfour added that his grandfather told him he thought of the ice-cream sellers of his youth when he was looking for a bright and breezy title for what he saw as a throwaway ditty. So according to the article Tabor "took the name from 'hokey pokey,' a common term for ice cream and a corruption of the Italian phrase 'ecco un poco' used by vendors when they gave their customers a small amount to taste." Tabor subsequently changed the title to 'hokey cokey,' "at the suggestion of a Canadian officer, because 'cokey" was a slang term for crazy in Canada."
An alternative claim to the authorship of this song, has been made by the son of Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy, who is best known for penning the lyrics to "Teddy Bears' Picnic." Kennedy Jr. stated in a letter to the Financial Times
newspaper that his father penned the song in 1942 with an original title of "Cokey Cokey." He added that it stemmed from an experience his father had with Canadian soldiers stationed at a London nightclub. He wrote: "They were having a hilarious time, singing and playing games, one of which they said was a Canadian children's game called The Cokey Cokey
. I thought to myself, wouldn't that be fun as a dance to cheer people up! So when I got back to my hotel, I wrote a chorus based on the feet and hand movements the Canadians had used, with a few adaptations. A few days later, I wrote additional lyrics to it but kept the title, Cokey Cokey, and, as everybody knows, it became a big hit."
Despite the alternative claims of authorship (or maybe as a British compromise!), in the United Kingdom for copyright purposes, this song is regarded as a traditional song and is therefore free of copyright restrictions. This does not apply to the similar American participation dance song, "The Hokey Pokey
," which is copyrighted to its authors Larry LaPrise, Charles Macak and Tafit Baker.