Relax, Bill Cosby isn’t dead — it was a hoax. Is it true that the origin of ”hoax” mocks Christianity?

They are the acne of the Web, stupid rumors about celebrities. Justin Bieber and Britney Spears are frequent targets, and yesterday, the venerable Bill Cosby actually had to appear online and on TV to quash the frothing gossip that, well, he was dead. As Mark Twain said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Bigfoot and Hitler’s diaries are two of the more famous hoaxes in recent history. The Internet has empowered hucksters and hooligans to spread spurious stuff like never before. A hoax is specifically “something intended to deceive or defraud.” The possible origins of the word, however, are far more compelling than a trillion Bigfoots in flying saucers.

Hoax is most likely an alteration of “hocus,” as in a magician saying “hocus pocus.” And hocus pocus is a truly bizarre specimen in the lexicon. It is a fake Latin phrase, used by jugglers and magicians for centuries to impress the uninformed. Hocas Pocas has been a name for performers going back to at least the Renaissance.  There are three theories regarding the source of the phrase. Let’s start with the most commonly accepted.

The Eucharist, a central Christian prayer, contains the Latin “hoc est enim corpus meum,” meaning “for this is my body.” Jesus is said to have spoken these words at the Last Supper. The British clergyman John Tillotson speculates in 1694 that hocus pocus is not only a corruption of this key Latin phrase, but a parody in keeping with the occasionally vulgar humor of prestidigitators.

A more obscure theory posits that a magical demon from Norse mythology, Ochus Bochus, is the source of hocus-pocus. An even more fanciful hypothesis suggests that Ochus Bochus is a corruption of Bacchus, (Dionysius), the Greek god of wine and revelry.

(While we’re on the topic of blasphemy, is there a difference between swearing, cussing, and cursing? Find out here.)

The Welsh term hovea pwca, “a goblin’s trick,” is a third candidate for the origin of hoax. There is a fourth possibility; the phrase is sheer nonsense, meant to attract attention — much like the repellent  rumor that Bill Cosby passed away.

Which of these explanations for “hoax” sounds the most likely to you? And what is your favorite hoax of all time? Please share, but don’t start any nasty rumors.

The Book Study Concordance of the Greek New Testament

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society December 1, 2004 | Guthrie, George H The Book Study Concordance of the Greek New Testament. By Andreas K?¶stenberger and Raymond Bouchoc. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003, viii + 1528 pp., $59.00.

Release of a variety of uniquely helpful study tools in recent years has facilitated work on the Greek NT. To their number Andreas K?¶stenberger and Raymond Bouchoc have added this compilation of Greek concordances for each book of the NT. The Book Study Concordance does not replace conventional concordances, such as the Konkordanz zum Novum Testamentum Graece or The Exhaustive Concordance to the Greek New Testament, but rather plays a complementary role, filling a niche by offering a clearer view of each NT book’s vocabulary.

There are, however, a number of minor adjustments that could make this good tool even better. The designation “total word count” may be confusing to some, for this refers not to the total number of words in the book but rather the total vocabulary for the book. Romans, for example, is given a “total word count” of 1060, but many commentators refer to the total number of words in a book when doing statistics, and, for Romans, that number is 7,111. The addition of a true “total word count” would be helpful. While crunching numbers, why not give percentages following the vocabulary count, number of words occurring at least 10 times, and number of words occurring once? For example, the percentage of vocabulary to total words for Romans is about 15% and the number of words occurring once is at about 8%. This compares to 17.4% and 8% for 2 Corinthians and 20% and 11% for Hebrews. For even greater clarity on use of vocabulary, these percentages could be run, omitting the 29 very high frequency words listed in the preface to the Konkordanz zum Nouum Testamentum Graece. Also, beside each percentage heading under “Words whose occurrences in the book account for at least 25% of occurrences in the entire NT,” the authors could provide the total number of terms occurring under that percentage. In addition, along with the number of occurrences in the book and the NT, a third number could be added depicting the number of terms occurring with this frequency in the book. Thus, one could see readily that there are 157 different vocabulary terms in Hebrews, accounting for 100% of the uses in the NT, and 131 hapax Iegomena. Finally, English glosses in the frequency lists would take little room and keep users from constantly turning back to the concordance for word meanings of very low frequency terms. see here online word count go to site online word count

Those doing research, as well as pastors, teachers, and students, will benefit greatly from this helpful work. Though The Book Study Concordance is a niche tool, it fills the niche well, offering a unique perspective on the vocabulary of the Greek NT.

[Author Affiliation] George H. Guthrie Union University, Jackson, TN Guthrie, George H


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  2. Whoa -  July 8, 2011 - 12:33 pm

    @Theophilos- you should stop criticizing other people’s religions. You should accept that some people believe different things than you and just let it go. What did Mormons ever do to you to make you judge their beliefs so harshly?

  3. Noxodas -  March 31, 2011 - 1:34 pm

    Have to agree with you. The golden tablets happens to be a winner. However, I personally am inclined towards the archeological Piltdown Man and Cardiff Giant… although Iraq’s WMDs and “Mission Accomplished” were darn good ones…

    On the contrary. Jesus is (was) 100% real. It’s the Father and the Holy Ghost that fall into the 50% category…

    What makes you so certain Jesus did not speak latin? The entire area where he lived, roamed and tought was a Roman province. Or why do you think Pontius Pilate was involved in it all and Roman ceturions arrested and guarded him? Add to that the fact that he was a priest. That implies that he studied and was a learned man. He could very well have spoken hebrew, aramaic, latin and greek. On the other hand, he was the son of God and was (is) able to perform many miracles. Speaking latin would have been a rather small miracle, don’t you think?

  4. livivication -  January 9, 2011 - 9:24 am

    May I, quite late, just say that I am sorry if anyone took badly what I said.
    I didn’t mean it that way, but if I can remind people that Luther was the one who wanted to translate (and did in fact translate it to German) to the language of the people, so that people would not have to listen to a preacher preaching in Latin, the language only spoken by an elite group.
    I should not have put aka there, it was very clumsy of me.
    I hope this clears up the sky a bit.
    Yours humbly, livivication.

  5. glee music -  December 15, 2010 - 9:22 pm

    Her music was very popular, folks around me loves her and her music. I hope she was back to be massive again

  6. Jerald -  December 13, 2010 - 3:16 am


    My dad listened to the original broadcast and told me that it sounded absolutely legitimate, except that at each break in the broadcast listeners were reminded that they were listening to a drama. Sadly, that didn’t stop a number of people from committing suicide. I’d say it had an effect similar to a hoax: innocent, naive or gullible people believed it and acted as though it were true.

  7. Erika -  November 22, 2010 - 2:20 am

    Others believe that it is an appeal to the Norse folklore magician Ochus Bochus:

    Hocus Pocus: Words of pseudomagical import. According to Sharon Turner in The History of the Anglo-Saxons (4 vols., 1799-1805), they were believed to be derived from “Ochus Bochus,” a magician and demon of the north.[4]

    source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hocus_Pocus_(magic)

  8. steverino1947 -  November 21, 2010 - 11:19 pm

    1. Magic Ian personal comment on K Stil is offensive and off topic. The moderator should remove it.

    2. sebastian’s comment on jesus commits a classic fallacy. just because there are 2 possibilities does not mean they are equally likely. that’s especially when the 2nd is merely the negation of the first. for example, if i said “either i will be struck by lightning today or i won’t,” then obviously it is NOT a 50% chance.

  9. hksche2000 -  November 21, 2010 - 9:45 am

    Hocus pocus, an alliteration of “hoc est corpus”, seems to be the most likely origin. Medieval magicians commonly used (bastardized) “kitchen” Latin to bamboozle their audience, AND changing bread to (Christ’s) body, in the magicians mind, was just the magic, they felt, they were performing under the “hocus pocus” spell.

  10. Curly -  November 21, 2010 - 7:31 am

    It’s Dionysus. Not Dionysius.

  11. Rafeal Widad -  November 21, 2010 - 4:20 am

    My favorite hoax is the belittling of whatever it is people think they know a lot about.

    ie Politics, religion, sex, truth, government, honesty…

  12. Eve -  November 20, 2010 - 4:19 pm

    My favorite hoax, though not really a hoax from what I understand the word to mean, was the radio broadcast of War of the Worlds by Orson Welles done as a series of news bulletins. I have always found that story endlessly fascinating and wonder at just how much of the audience really thought they were being invaded from space. Though accounts of widespread panic may or may not be true, the concept of people huddling around their radios believing they are witness to an alien invasion is at once hilarious and excessively odd.

  13. The GomSof -  November 20, 2010 - 3:36 pm

    Sorry safetyjack, livivication is correct – “hoi polloi” refers to the mob, the many, hence the common folk. His/her “aka” is, however, simply unnecessary.

  14. MARS | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  August 26, 2010 - 5:48 pm

    [...] not imagination that’s dangerous. — It’s lack of one and gullibility that makes a hoax contagious.–Rupert [...]

  15. safetyjack -  August 14, 2010 - 4:14 pm

    Livivication should check his or her dictionary for the meaning of “hoi polloi.” I suggest that it does not mean common folk but just the opposite.

  16. Wordpress Themes -  August 9, 2010 - 2:04 pm

    Nice post and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you on your information.

  17. miriamk -  August 9, 2010 - 9:03 am

    Love these hot word posts! My favorite hoax has to be Scientology.

  18. getgoblinoffmyback -  August 7, 2010 - 7:32 pm

    Hocus bocus implies therefore nothingness but sweet, a bloodsucking vampire but innocuous, supernatural maniplative practice including invading into dreams in return for sighting of heresy. What is puzzling is whether altogether adds up to a worldly profane sap or some windfall.

  19. Jon West -  August 5, 2010 - 8:54 am

    @Raymond, I’m confused…how does Sumerian link in to your explanation? It’s not the ancestor of Hawaiian or Greek or Latin.

  20. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  August 4, 2010 - 1:17 pm


    This is a kechap-word or-phrase: a polyglottal similarity in meaning:

    According to googlodytes and googleans-in-general, the Hawaiian Huka Puka, foamy/sugar + hole/bore, is the source for this, approximating “sweet nothings”. (cf etymologically the similar O-mega and U-mega).

    This might seem contrived, but, the related HOKEY POKEY, not referring to cheap ice cream but to dancing, obscures it: Few teachers recognize that the hokey pokey, after putting the foot in and out and shaking it about but before turning around, is the full-body-wiggle approximating the Hawaiian hula or the mideast belly dance….

    It is also the practicing magicians’ borrowed term derived from hockey puck, meaning the thing you have to keep in close control and not lose while it slides about erratically, comparable to a mischievous sprite.

    If you carry it back to the original Sumerian, Hwk, hook, is The North (main) Pole, and Pwk, pook, is the Chief Sire or incubus of mis-chief.

    Hwk-us Pwk-us is a Greco-Roman-Latin redoubling of the -uk/-us ending.

    The combined meaning is a mindless i.e. carnal corruptive distraction.


    (There’s a TV/radio show like this where only one panel member gives the right explanation….)


  21. Johnny B -  August 4, 2010 - 11:38 am

    I often try to figure out religion, god, spirituality, etc. etc. Isn’t magic hocus pocus? Don’t we consider primitive “religion” to be superstition(s). Does the word “mythology” have a place in a discussion about religion? In other words, my poor anemic mind has difficulty understanding the differences between hocus pocus, superstition, mythology and magic. Since we are a part of a word blog, consider the meaning of the words “believe”, “know”, and “feel” as it’s misused in today’s lexicon. Do religionists “know”, “believe” or “feel” that they have found a profound truth?

    Thanks to all, by the way, for keeping this discussion friendly and thought provoking. Maybe only strangers can talk about religion with each other. So, thanks, stranger.

  22. RAM -  August 4, 2010 - 11:25 am

    I don’t think it is worth the time in deciphering the source of ” hocus
    IN A LOGICAL AND SCIENTIFIC WAY. In the novel “David Copperfield” the villain always quotes one sentence to over awe the others “The world is in its dotage and yet the cosmogony and the creation of the world, has puzzled the philosophers of every age”. Well said. So too this maze of lexicon, its derivations, its origins will always be a good recreation, for leisurely people,to indulge in. For the computer and scientific Lexicon it is redundant.

  23. Angela -  August 4, 2010 - 9:56 am

    I’d have to say that the 1st explanation sounds pretty likely. Does this “vulgar humor” you mention refer to the long history of sodomy by and among priests? I think that’s pretty likely too.

  24. Bill C. -  August 4, 2010 - 9:18 am

    I think I’ll just go have some jello pudding!

  25. Liz -  August 4, 2010 - 8:50 am

    Ben, I’m Lutheran, and though I don’t believe in transubstantiation, I’m sorry you’ve been mocked for it. If only people would take the time to learn more about other religions before judging them.

    I loved this article though! I’m a huge etymology geek, and I think it’s an interesting theory about corrupting the original Latin phrase.

  26. NewMomsNearby -  August 4, 2010 - 8:47 am

    I never even heard the rumor that Bill Cosby passed away. I must be living in a cave. Great article though.
    Pregnant? New Mom? Just had a baby? Join our free “New Moms Nearby” community for social and emotional support. Chat Live and make friends!

  27. Richard -  August 4, 2010 - 8:33 am

    “the term “hocus pocus” has roots coming from simple working people’s gritty dismissive interpretation of the (usually not understood) latin pronouncements”.

    My dear old Mum would regularly sprinkle her conversations with various Latin, French or Spanish phrases which were mispronounced and, given the actual meaning of what she was trying to say, completely inappropriate to the discussion. Many of these phrases are still used in our family and, over the years, have evolved into words and phrases, the origins of which, future generations will have great difficulty working out.

  28. Mykeljon -  August 4, 2010 - 7:57 am

    Sorry, Ben. It is a symbolic representation of the body of Christ. Being a symbol does not make it any less important. The wedding ring on your finger is a symbol. If, in each case, you believe in what each symbol represents, then it has true meaning for you and helps to guide your life.

  29. Suzanne -  August 4, 2010 - 7:54 am

    Wasn’t the Mark Twain quote, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”?

  30. angelina -  August 4, 2010 - 7:44 am

    whoa!! weird,i wud never wanna be a target!

  31. T Fisher -  August 4, 2010 - 7:06 am

    Wait . . . were you serious about a trillion Bigfoots in flying saucers?

  32. Wanda -  August 4, 2010 - 7:03 am

    Having been raised in the Catholic Church, I tend to believe that the first explanation is correct, especially if you look closely at the Latin. I distictly remember that we were never permitted to use this phrase in school as it was considered highly disrespectful.

    Great blog and website. I love the daily puzzle.

  33. [...] countless pages. While hovering on the thesaurus.com page, this morning, I noticed one of the blog entries entitled “Relax, Bill Cosby isn’t dead — it was a hoax. Is it true that the origin of [...]

  34. Dan -  August 4, 2010 - 6:18 am

    John, 30 years would probably qualify as “recent.” The world is rather old, after all. And this post being about the etymology of a word that dates back several centuries would indicate that in world-historical time, that particular hoax IS in fact, “recent.”

  35. Jon West -  August 4, 2010 - 6:16 am

    etymonline.com suggests that hocus pocus, or Hocas Pocas, is indeed based on a perversion of the sacramental blessing from the mass, ‘hoc est corpus meum.’

    I’ve never heard of the possible Welsh origin of the phrase before, but I seriously doubt it. ‘hovea’ cannot even a Welsh word because Welsh orthography doesn’t use the letter ‘v’.

    The Cottingley fairies hoax has to be one of my all time favourites. Even Arthur Conan Doyle was fooled by them.

  36. clemens -  August 4, 2010 - 4:55 am

    I don’t like him dead or alive.

  37. Alan Turner -  August 4, 2010 - 4:39 am

    The greatest hoax must be what education does for us. Get a good education and get a good job. Do you remember being told this at school by teachers who have never heard of private enterprise?

    The whole phrase is ‘Get a good education, get a good job and retire broke’

    Fortunately for me I didn’t take the advice.

  38. whereisthisgoingto -  August 4, 2010 - 3:48 am

    What do you call people who hoax, got hoaxed, and who turns hoax into something different sincere somehow?

  39. Chris Earnshaw -  August 4, 2010 - 1:36 am

    Sorry to nitpick – “The British clergy John Tillotson” – don’t you mean the “clergyman John Tillotson”, as clergy is a collective noun. Otherwise a fun article.

  40. Hosea -  August 3, 2010 - 10:39 pm

    This is a very interesting discussion. Two things. First: many sites like this, religion is either forbidden or restricted so that it only exist in it’s own form of religion. Religion without a name is still religion. In short. Religion is a belief system.

    Second interesting thought that came to my mind reading the article and responses is where the internet is heading. I always find the evolution of the internet fascinating. Now you can wake up in the morning and find out that you are dead faster than before.

  41. Phillip -  August 3, 2010 - 10:04 pm

    … which is relatively recent in an article discussing Norse mythology and Dionysius.

  42. GrayKat -  August 3, 2010 - 6:20 pm

    It is very easy to imagine a priest garbling Latin in a mass, both intentionally and accidentally. The environment was ripe for clerical error!

    A mispronunciation by priests in one region could have perpetuated itself until an authority more skilled in Latin could correct the errant version. Few priests spoke Latin as written by the church hierarchy. Prior to Charlemange’s endeavor to educate the clergy, most priests were as illiterate as their parishoners and knew “Latin” only in the local dialect.

    Other priests, such as ninth century missionaries to Eastern European, became entangled in the battle between the Latin church and the Byzantine church. Between 869 and 878, priests were ordered to change from Slavonic to Latin, back to Slavonic, then to Latin only, depending on who was in power. Such changes were not uniformly popular with the recently-converted local populace, a view no doubt shared by some priests. What better way to subtly mock the offending edict than by mangling the alien liturgy?

    The offense would not have been broadcast, but the event could remain in oral history long enough to become an illustration of a benighted past.

  43. Tony -  August 3, 2010 - 5:39 pm

    Was Jesus said to have spoken, “hoc est enim corpus meum,” or just a general, “for this is my body.” – Because I’m fairly certain jesus didn’t speak latin.

  44. sebastian -  August 3, 2010 - 4:55 pm

    do you believe in jesus
    he can be real or fake
    50% chance

  45. John -  August 3, 2010 - 4:12 pm

    Hitler’s Diaries a *recent* hoax? That goes back close to 30 years…

  46. Brian -  August 3, 2010 - 3:40 pm

    Could hoax be related to chukim, irrational laws in the TNKH?

  47. JadeyWeb -  August 3, 2010 - 1:56 pm

    I read a lot of folklore and mythology and have never come across any being named “Ochus Bochus.” It doesn’t even sound Norse.

  48. Theophilos -  August 3, 2010 - 1:51 pm

    My favorite all-time hoax has to be Joseph Smith’s ability to convince his followers that he found gold plates with hierglyphics on it that he could translate with magical orbs supplied by an angel.

  49. pentagonal -  August 3, 2010 - 1:50 pm

    @livivication – yep I (sort of) agree. Being a Scot, native to a (Reformation) country where common folk eventually acted on their disdain and disbelief in the foreign and ‘wizard latin language’ used by a powerful and pretty hypocrytical Roman Catholic hierarchy… I reckon it’s plain that the term “hocus pocus” has roots coming from simple working people’s gritty dismissive interpretation of the (usually not understood) latin pronouncements of the prevailing racketeers and gangsters of the clergy and elite, of that time! ha ha. nice term.

  50. Paul -  August 3, 2010 - 12:53 pm

    This blog is fantastic! I have just discovered it – I blithely thank you for this marvelous and thoroughly insightful information.

  51. Magic Ian -  August 3, 2010 - 12:51 pm

    I heard from a credible source that K Stil is a homosexual.

  52. Joe -  August 3, 2010 - 12:51 pm

    Hmm, livivication, your use of aka = also known as, implies that prior to Martin Luther the church was absolutely corrupt, and that it was/is not after him. This violates Hot Word’s request to not start any nasty rumors.

  53. forex robot -  August 3, 2010 - 12:36 pm

    Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  54. Ben -  August 3, 2010 - 12:27 pm

    …and when the priest says “this is my body”, it APPEARS that he’s holding up a piece of bread, and when he grabbed it, it was, however it LITERALLY becomes the body of Christ during the words consecration(when those words are said)- it’s a process called “Transubstantiation”, and this is what’s being mocked, our faith.

    Given the fact that Catholics have faith that God comes to us under the guise of bread and wine, of course someone could very easily mock this as it’s constantly done today by non-Catholic Christians and Atheists alike!

  55. KStil -  August 3, 2010 - 11:42 am

    I’m impressed today. “Hocus pocus” is one of my favorite nonsense-type words; “abracadabra” would have been a really good addition to this post. All the same, a really thorough blog post today. Keep up the good work!

  56. livivication -  August 3, 2010 - 11:41 am

    Can’t it be a term used by a preacher (in the area where the church was absolutely corrupt, aka pre-Luther) who was blatantly using fake Latin (knowing that the hoi polloi didn’t know any actual Latin, so his preaching was quite useless in the first place).. I think it was a history book where I read that (but, of course, history books may well contain more faults than the Daily Mail, and that’s something!)


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