On hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo, flim-flam and jiggery-pokery
– 9 October 2010

The four expressions, used to call falsehoods and deceptions of various kinds, share a common verbal feature on analysis, that of repetition of sound with slight alteration, be it of a single vowel, a single consonant, or one or two of each. The common effect of this characteristic of the verbal presentation of each of the four expressions appears to be to suggest the deception of the human mind through the use of some kind of superficially apparently coherent presentation that is nonetheless false and perhaps even deliberately manipulative of human perception, lulling the object mind into a trance, just as rhymes in poetry can.

But is it not ironic that these four expressions themselves have precisely the effect that they are implying to be had by the targets of their attacks? They are labelling those targets as deceptions and falsehoods to be wary of, but without any evidence presented in support of these implicit claims, are they not in themselves carrying the potential to deceive?

Negative labels can be very persuasive, and those that imply trickery all the more so, since nobody likes to feel tricked or deceived. But how often have you come across labels of the genre of hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo, flim-flam and jiggery-pokery used without any clear evidence presented to substantiate their implicit claims? In such a context, are they anything more than potentially deceptive propaganda in themselves, slightly subconsciously frightening associative attachments to their particular chosen targets to the effect that the human mind is primed to recoil in suspicion from those targets, not even to approach them with an open mind to investigation and observation?

Be wary of negative labels of any kind. Be wary of negative propaganda and negatively charged verbal expressions of any kind. The negativity can pervade the subconscious and skew neutral consideration and ultimately pre-empt fair judgement. Always investigate matters on their own merits, as open-mindedly and analytically as possible. Never take someone else’s ill-speaking pseudo-objective projections for granted.

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  1. I like the points you make above. However I do use these expressions ironically, in a fun or somewhat self-deprecating way. Because: there is always a certain degree of mystery involved. If something works and it appears magical, there is an element of magic or je ne sais quoi or going beyond the limits of intellectual analysis involved when ‘the artist’ chooses one option from an long and variegated astrological menu of probabilities rather than another. Magic, as Arthur C Clarke said, is merely science which is not yet understood. Besides, if ‘a native’ were to experience astrology as mumbo jumbo, this might be a legitimate response to an astrologer failing to communicate, viz. translate technical terms into language which is understand. This happens. Much depends on tone of voice, but in general these expressions are less of an absolute condemnation than being called ‘one of those immoral people’ (this happened to me at a party), or ‘stuck in superstition’ (a friend’s husband won’t have me in their house because of ethical qualms) because they do suggest an element of playfulness or fun. (Don’t they?) They sort of people who use these expressions are probably telling you a lot about themselves rather than you: eg that they are unlikely to be open to alternative healing in any shape or form, or even climate change…..

    • Thank you for your most thoughtful comments, Catriona!
      I’m sorry you were greeted with such unpleasant and prejudicial judgements on a number of occasions. It is a shame that there are still so many people who assume a quasi-moralistic line against astrology. I have come across a few myself who view it as a ‘dangerous’ belief system. You are right that the terms I raised in this old article are more playful ones, relatively speaking, though I still think they have considerable propagandist power, depending on how they are used and with what intent! Philip

  2. Ah I’ve read about this in marketing. I believe they say it passes through the brain differently, and thus has a greater impact. 7-11, Jimmy Johns, etc.
    Perhaps we could develop counters to these remarks, or proper stark responses that can dilute their potency.
    Great bit though, you are an intelligent writer.

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