I got given a card for my birthday. I got more than one, but I didn’t want it to seem like I was bragging about knowing people other than my parents. The card was from my parents. Instead of the more traditional “Happy Birthday” or “Good work on not being dead for a year” or “Mild congratulations on another successful solar orbit” the card posed the question; what if the Hokey Cokey really is what it’s all about? An amusing enough joke, but what if it is? A song would never make a claim without being possibly researched. After all, The Weeknd wouldn’t claim that “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you” without solid proof that his partner was a dentist or someone trained in delivering botox, and Ed Sheeran will almost certainly stop loving you the moment you pass the age of 70 years. However, I sadly don’t have access to any data from the undoubtedly well-funded laboratories of Clinton Cards. Today, so will have to do my own research. So let’s take our brains, go in out, in out and shake it all about in an entirely non-erotic sense and answer the deeply philosophical question; is the Hokey Cokey really what it’s all about?
The Hokey Cokey as it is known in the United Kingdom or Hokey Pokey in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand is a participation dance with a distinctive accompanying tune and lyric structure. In the United Kingdom the song is currently un-copyrighted due to its age. In the United States, Sony/ATV Music Publishing controls 100% of the publishing rights to the “Hokey Pokey.” From this point forward I will refer to the song as the Hokey Cokey rather than have to send money towards Sony, even if the road to its head office is almost entirely paved with good intentions.
The origins of the Hokey Cokey are not clear. According to some (Wikipedia), in 1940, during the Blitz in London, a Canadian officer suggested to Al Tabor, a British bandleader of the time, that he write a party song with actions similar to “Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree.” I’m sure you all know the song and actions to Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree so I won’t bore you by going through it now. The inspiration for the song’s title that resulted, “The Hokey Pokey”, came from an ice cream vendor whom Tabor had heard as a boy, calling out, “Hokey pokey penny a lump. Have a lick make you jump.” Presumably he has received therapy for this trauma and the ice cream vendor promptly jailed. Al Tabor then changed the name to “The Hokey Cokey” as he thought it would sound better. Some scholars (and one can only imagine the academic rigour it must require to be a scholar of the Hokey Cokey) attributed the origin to the Scottish song “Hinkum-Booby“, which had similar lyrics. I would humbly suggest that it’s a good job. If I were to observe someone shouting, oh the hinkum booby, I should assume that they had acquired a horrible disease of the mammary.
The Hokey Cokey and accompanying dance peaked in popularity as a music hall song and novelty dance in the mid-1940s in Britain and Ireland, as presumably had a sense of boredom. The instruction set and lyrics are as follows: the right leg has been used as an example body part, but in the actual song, the body parts used vary as the song and the desperation of the participants progresses.
You put your [right leg] in,
your [right leg] out:
in, out, in, out,
you shake it all about.
You do the Hokey Cokey and you turn around.
That’s what it’s all about!
It is the final lyric that I want to concentrate on. That’s what this is all about. To claim that it holds the key to the meaning behind everything in the universe is quite a bold claim for a 1940s novelty song. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not the case. Has the answer to this vital underlying question of everything been lying under our noses like some sort of filtrum all this time? Is “what it’s all about” to be revealed by the lyrics or the movement of the Hokey Cokey, or an elaborate combination of the two.
In order to do the Hokey Cokey, participants join their hands at the fingertips to make a chevron and proceed to rock the chevron from side-to-side. After that, the participants separately, but in time with the others, turn around (usually clockwise when viewed from above, but this direction does not appear to be compulsory). When combined with the previous instructions to move various boy parts in and out repetitively the meaning of the song becomes apparent.
The Hokey Cokey is drawing our attention to the importance of the wave function. A wave function is a probability amplitude in quantum mechanics describing the quantum state of a particle and how it behaves. Typically, its values are complex numbers and, for a single particle, it represents a function of space and time. Everybody’s favourite continuum. The laws of quantum mechanics, in particular the Schrödinger equation, describe how the wave function evolves over time and predicts the future state of dynamic systems. The wave function behaves qualitatively like other waves, like water waves or waves on a string, because essentially the Schrödinger equation is mathematically a type of wave equation. This explains the name “wave function”, and gives rise to wave–particle duality (elementary particles can have the properties of particles and waves). This is easily seen in the Hokey Cokey. The sinusoidal movement of body parts with a circle in unison with others definitely represents an example of a wave function and perhaps even quantum entanglement. The hands joined in a chevron rocking from side-to-side can be said to be a visual representation of the wave function. The following turning around in a circle is the dance representation of a particle, highlighting wave-particle duality.
The most common symbols for a wave function are a lower-case or capital psi. This is also the symbol used to represent psychology. In fact some physicists such as John Wheeler and Edwin Jaynes regarded the wave function as representing information in the mind of the observer, and therefore a measure of our knowledge of reality. Duuuuude!
Ultimately then, the Hokey Cokey can be viewed as a dance form of the wave function, quantum entanglement, wave particle duality, human psychology and our knowledge of reality. It may be fair to say then that the Hokey Cokey is indeed what it’s all about. The chorus confirms this with an exuberant celebration of the Hokey Cokey’s vital place in the universe and the joy and awe human’s should feel in their understanding of this.
Whoa, hokey cokey cokey
Whoa, hokey cokey cokey
Whoa, hokey cokey cokey,
Knees bent arms stretch,
Rah rah rah!