“Jiggery-pokery”

When last heard from, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was referring to argle-bargle . Now, dissenting from the court’s upholding of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), Scalia accused the majority of “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” The OED notes that the term derives from a venerable Scots expression, joukery-pawkery, and means “deceitful or dishonest ‘manipulation’; hocus-pocus, humbug.” The dictionary’s first citation is from 1893, but Ammon Shea, at Merriam-Webster’s “Words at Play” blog, beat that by a remarkable five decades, quoting a December 1845 article from the (Reading, England) Berkshire Chronicle: “… under the present law, the averages were made up so faithfully and fairly as to prevent any jiggery-pokery.”

I myself had not encountered jiggery-pokery since 1967, when it served as the title of Anthony Hecht and John Hollander’s anthology of double dactyls. In inventing this form years earlier, the two poets had come up with some wild and crazy rules. As described by the poet Julie Larios, it consists of:

eight lines of two dactyls each, arranged in two quatrains. The first line of the poem must be nonsense (like “Higgledy-piggledy” or “Jiggery-pokery”) and the second line must be a name; the fourth and eighth lines are dactyls followed by spondees, and they rhyme; and one line of the poem (often the 6th or 7th) must be a single six-syllable word.

Here’s an example, by Hollander:

Higgledy, piggledy,
Anna Karenina
Went off her feed and just
Couldn’t relax.
Then, quite ignoring the
Unsuitability,
Threw in the sponge and was
Scraped off the tracks
Any readers want to try their hands?

5 responses to ““Jiggery-pokery”

  1. Higgledy, piggledy
    Luigi Galvani
    Playing with dead frogs that
    Twitched with a spark
    And so he discovered
    Bioelectricity
    And all older theories were
    Wide of the mark

  2. Not going to attempt any verse, but I’ll point out that “jiggery-pokery” is often used as a euphemism for sex these days, possibly because it contains the word “poke”.

  3. As a scot I’m surpised to learn that this term comes from Scotland. I have always heard it around me as meaning something deceitful but with no sexual connotation to date (things evolve!) Hanky-Panky is a better word when it comes to sexual innuendo. Anyone agree?

    • There’s a word in Scots and N Irish speech which I have never seen written down but I would have thought was spelt as juke, which means to duck or dodge. Jiggery-pokery is trickery, usually financial or political. Politicians use it. I wouldn’t associate it with sex, unlike hank-panky. Pawk is not a word I’ve heard before.

  4. Best if read aloud in a Brooklyn accent:

    Hoggamus, boggamus,
    Susan B. Anthony
    Graces the face of the
    One dollar coin.
    Contrast with Hamilton,
    Unceremoniously
    Thrown off the currency,
    Not to retoin.

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