What is jiggery-pokery?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: jiggery-pokery…

As a youth, I wasn’t a huge David Bowie fan. But of course I grew up to his music and his  Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke personas. Like many fans, however, I was sad to hear he’d died young, at at the age of 69, of liver cancer.

Newspapers and blogs have been filled with retrospectives of his life and music, and I particularly enjoyed one appearing in the New York Times by Simon Critchley. Headlined “Nothing Remains: David Bowie’s Vision of Love” it related the writer’s views of the performer’s life and work.

It also gave me my word of the week: jiggery-pokery. Here’s how Critchley used it:

Within Bowie’s negativity, beneath his apparent naysaying and gloom, one can hear a clear Yes, an absolute and unconditional affirmation of life in all of its chaotic complexity, but also its moments of transport and delight. For Bowie, I think, it is only when we clear away all the fakery of social convention, the popery and jiggery-pokery of organized religion and the compulsory happiness that plagues our culture that we can hear the Yes that resounds across his music. 

My father was a second generation Brit (who managed to maintain a British accent, despite never having left North America — but that’s another story). As a result, I grew up knowing the word jiggery-pokery. It means deceitful or dishonest behaviour.

The noun is a classic example of what’s called a double dactyl — a dactyl being a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. Other examples of double dactyls are higgledy-piggledy and idiosyncrasy.

The word was first recorded in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire dialect (I was interested to learn this because Oxford was the birthplace of my paternal grandmother.) It’s thought to be an alteration of the seventeenth century Scottish phrase joukery-pawkery. The word jouck means to to dodge or cheat and the word pawk means to trick or to be artful, sly or shrewd.


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