The Hokey Pokey Nursery Rhyme- Lyrics, History, Video, Lesson Plans & More

The Hokey Pokey is a special dance and campfire song that spread across the English-speaking world thanks to the distinctive lyrics and fun accompanying dance moves. Sometimes known as the Hokey Cokey, the song is thought to have some sinister beginnings.

But does it? Let’s see if there’s any truth to that statement with the examination of the song below.


Lyrics for The Hokey Pokey As Sung Today

The Hokey Pokey song comprises several verses mentioning the putting in and out of different body parts.

You put your right foot in
You take your right foot out
You put your right foot in
And you shake it all about
You do the hokey pokey
And you turn around
That’s what it’s all about

You put your left foot in
You take your left foot out
You put your left foot in
And you shake it all about
You do the hokey pokey
And you turn around
That’s what it’s all about

You put your right hand in
You take your right hand out
You put your right hand in
And you shake it all about
You do the hokey pokey
And you turn around
That’s what it’s all about

You put your left hand in
You take your left hand out
You put your left hand in
And you shake it all about
You do the hokey pokey
And you turn around
That’s what it’s all about

You put your whole self in
You take your whole self out
You put your whole self in
And you shake it all about
You do the hokey pokey
And you turn around
That’s what it’s all about

Sometimes the word pokey is replaced by tokey or cokey depending on the country.

Full Original Lyrics for The Hokey Pokey Nursery Rhyme

There are several original versions that could have inspired the modern-day lyrics.

Robert Chamber’s 1842 Version

Fal de ral la, fal de ral la:
Hinkumbooby, round about;
Right hands in, and left hands out,
Hinkumbooby, round about;
Fal de ral la, fal de ral la

Edward BW Nicholson’s 1892 Version

Hilli ballu ballai!
Hilli ballu ballight!
Hilli ballu ballai!
Upon a Saturday night.
Put all your right feet out,
Put all your left feet in,
Turn them a little, a little,
And turn yourselves about.

English Folks Rhymes Version, 1892

Can you dance looby, looby,
Can you dance looby, looby,
Can you dance looby, looby,
All on a Friday night?

You put your right foot in;
And then you take it out,

And wag it, and wag it, and wag it,
Then turn and turn about


Boy standing in a classroom thinking with question marks about the history of the Hokey Pokey

Who Wrote the Nursery Rhyme the Hokey Pokey?

The Hokey Pokey, like many other nursery rhymes, has no known author. Its first appearance in print was in Robert Chambers’ book Popular Rhymes of Scotland of 1826.

The song was markedly different from that 1826 version but still followed the same dance style as the modern version. It’s unclear what the name of the song was at that time.

However, later on, came another song that closely resembled the 1826 variant. The song was called Hinkum-Booby.

It was published in Edward Deming Andrews’ A gift to be Simple in 1940. The modern variant’s words and actions are closest to this version.

Many early versions also resemble another famous song, Looby Loo, by an unknown author.

There are some accounts that claim the song was a 17th-century composition from the words hocus pocus. The two are a magician’s words that are said to originate from Scotland.

There is also some controversy in the USA where several writers claim to have written the song which we write about in more detail next!

Does the Hokey Pokey Song Have a Sinister History or Meaning?

There are some people who are convinced the song has a sinister history and is a hidden taunt of the Catholic church’s Latin mass.

Most people take the song literally and believe the history to be made up or wouldn’t even have put the stories together with the song because to them the song is just meant to be fun.

However, we will take a look at those theories that try to explain the origin and you can make your mind up for yourself!

1) The Theory of Scottish Puritans and the Catholic Church

Although the history of the Hokey Pokey is shrouded in mystery, some interesting accounts of origin do exist. There is a theory that the song was a creation of Scottish puritans who coined it to deride the Catholic church.

In the UK, the song is known as the Hokey Cokey. Those words are said to be derivatives of the incantations “hocus pocus.” The incantation is part of several words: “Hocus pocus, tontus talontus, vade celeriter jubeo.”

The words are said to be a taunting phrase for the Latin words popularly spoken at Catholic masses: hoc est enim corpus meum. The words mean “for this is my body.”

To lend credence to this theory, in 2008, Catholic church officials said singing the Hokey Cokey song is tantamount to faith hate.

2) The Theory of the Ice Cream Vendor

According to this theory, Al Tabor a Jewish band leader wrote the song in 1940 drawing inspiration for the name of the song from ice cream!

The song was supposedly used to raise people’s spirits as the second world war raged. The theory disputes the song is an 18th-century creation.

Alan Balfour, Tabor’s grandson, says the song’s title stems from the words his grandfather used to hear the ice cream man shout when he was a kid. The ice cream vendors would shout “Hokey pokey, penny a lump” to advertise their ice cream.

So this has nothing to do with the Catholic church if we are to believe this theory.

3) The USA author controversy!

In the USA several writers have claimed authorship of the music.

Robert Degan apparently wrote the song in 1944 with his musician friend Joe Briar during a summer resort gig near the Delaware Water Gap.

However Robert Degans words were a little different to the version we sing today

Put your right hand in,
Put your right hand out,
Put your right hand in and you wiggle all about.
Everything is okey dokey when you do the Hokey Pokey.
That is what the dance is all about.

The version we know well today was written and recorded by Larry Laprise in 1948 and later in 1953 with a full orchestra.

Larry Laprise settled a lawsuit out of court filed by Degan in 1950 over the ownership of the lyrics and song. It was settled out of court, where both parties concluded they were joint owners of the song.

LaPrise eventually sold the copyright to his version of the song to a Nashville publishing company, who then was sold to Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 2002. Degan is said to have also received royalties from Sony as part of the joint ownership agreement.


What Does the Nursery Rhyme the Hokey Pokey Mean?

The Hokey Pokey song is a dance song with lyrics that don’t mean much. The lyrics are only directions to a dance style. Therefore, there is no hidden interpretation of the song or its lyrics.

What Does the Phrase Hokey Pokey Mean?

No one knows the actual meaning of the phrase. It is only a fun phrase added to the song to make it more enjoyable!

Some people believe it is derived from the magicians frase Hocus Pocus, which is used to entertain people which is exactly what the hokey pokey song also does!

It could also just be nonsense words created for rhyming – the song describes people poking their body parts outwards and therefore to make it fun you are doing the hokey pokey in doing so!


What Made the Hokey Pokey Song Famous?

The Hokey Pokey could be just another nursery rhyme if it didn’t become a UK dance hall hit in the 1940s. Jimmy Kennedy, a British songwriter, claims to have written the famous variation of the tune in the 1940s. The song known as the Hokey Cokey, took the UK by storm.

The popular dance styles gripped the nation in a frenzy that was soon taken over by other musicians. More of them made versions of the song that went on to be huge hits.

It is said the song was very popular amongst the US and Bristish Troupes during World War II which may be why it moved so quickly from the UK to the USA.

In the US, the song was made famous in the 1950s. Larry LaPrise, Charles Macak, and Tafit Baker recorded a version of the song in 1948. The trio was a musical group called the Ram Trio. They created a novelty dance that went along with the song, making it explode across the United States.

Other US artists had recorded the song earlier than 1946, but the song didn’t become famous until the 1950s came around. In 1953, Ray Anthony recorded a version of the song that also become a national sensation.

It is these recordings that made the song famous before it spread across the world.

Is It Hokey Pokey or Hokey Cockey?

You can use either of the terms since they all retain the rhythm of the song. The song’s name varies in different countries. The USA, Australia, and Canada use Hokey Pokey, and the UK Hokey Cokey.

Different countries have different names for the song as well. In Denmark, it’s called the Boogie Woogie song, and Hokey Tokey in New Zealand. You are spoilt for choice over which words to use.

Is the Hokey Pokey In the Public Domain?

In the USA Sony own the rights to the Hokey Pokey even though the history can be tracked particularly in the UK to earlier times. This is because Larry LaPrise sold his version of the tune that we sing today to a publishing company in Nashville, which was eventually sold to Sony/ATV music publishing.

(Disclaimer: These are general–not a legally confirmed facts, and you need to do more research into the laws in your jurisdiction/country to ensure you have the right to use this song)

How Do You Sing the Hokey Pokey Nursery Rhyme in Sign Language?

You can sing the song in sign language. Below is a YouTube resource to help you with that.

Hokey Pokey Inspired Activities and Lesson Plans

The following is a selection of Lesson Plans based on The Hokey Pokey song. You need to click on the images to go to the websites to learn more and download the resources.

Sheet Music for the Hokey Pokey Nursery Rhyme

What is the Time Signature of the Hokey Pokey Nursery Rhyme?

The Hokey Pokey song is played with a time signature of 4/4.

How to Play the Hokey Pokey Rhyme With an Instrument

You can play The Hokey Pokey song on an instrument with any of the below YouTube resources.


Samantha Bellerose has a Bachelor of Education as well as a Diploma in Performing Arts. She is a mom to four children and is passionate about education and learning. Samantha created Nursery Rhyme Central as the go to place for parents, teachers and carers about all things to do with Nursery Rhymes. She is also the Main Author and creator for websites Dance Parent 101 and Move Dance Learn, where she shares her knowledge and expertise for dance and learning through movement.

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