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Word Smith: Hocus-Pocus

According to Wikipedia, the year was 1620 and the priests of that era said the Roman Catholic mass in Latin, with their backs to the congregation. For the next 300+ years the priests seem to mumble their words, or so the congregation felt, as they got less and less comfortable with Latin.[1]

One urban legend is that the term hocuspocus is a perversion of the sacramental blessing that was recited at every Eucharistic offering at mass, “Hoc est enim corpus meum,” which means “This is my body.” The Latin expression was shortened to Hocus Pocus by those who felt the Latinate was too difficult to understand, and it soon dissolved into a slight of hand from a magician or conjurer.

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Our priest friend, Rick Ganz, SJ, tells the story better than this Word Smith, but the Wiki page has the same basic idea that Rick tells us. We now have many generations who never heard a Latin mass, and more generations who know more about Disney movies, like Hocus Pocus, than they do great magicians. The origins of the words Hocus Pocus are lost to in the undertow of Henry Houdini and legerdemain. Dragged to the sea floor like so much flotsam and jetsam.

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With characters like comedians Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker in the 1993 cast, these movies are still in circulation and have “line extentions,” like Hocus Pocus 2.

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hocus_pocus_(magic)