Hocus-pocus: tricks or treats?

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Not that the word hocus-pocus (мошенничество, надувательство, обман) is very commonly used in English these days.

Though in Russia its equivalent фокус-покус is still regularly in use – whether it’s due to Russia’s being a land of magic or a place where a lot of deception (= the act of making people believe something that is not rrue) happens we’ll leave to our readers to guess.

Anyway, it’s a word with an interesting history which I’d like to share with you.

The origins of hocus-pocus are still debated. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, it dates back to the seventeenth-century mock (= only pretending to be real) Latin phrase hax pax max Deus adimax used by conjurors (=a person who does magic tricks to entertain people) as a magical formula capable of putting a white rabbit into a previously empty top hat.

However, I personally prefer the alternative version. In the ceremony of Mass ( = the most important religious service in some Christian churches), the faithful ( = believers) are shown a piece of bread and a glass of wine which the priest proclaims ( = to say publicly that something is true) the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

In the past, all religious services were carried out in Latin, the language only the few initiated ( =those in the know) knew.

To the illiterate ( = those who can’t read or write) masses gathered around the God’s representative on earth, the sacramental blessing Hoc est corpus meum – ‘This is my body!’ – made no sense whatsoever, and due to their lacking knowledge of Latin got garbled ( =mixed up) into Hocus pocus!

Born as a magic formula, over time hocus pocus widened its meaning to any words or activities designed to trick someone or hide what is going on.

Example: In her opinion, homeopathy is nothing but a lot of hocus-pocus.

Hope you found this story interesting and added a few new words to you vocabulary!

Vocabulary: How Many Words Do You Need to Know?

In this post I’d like to look at the vocabulary aspect of language learning.

If we liken speech to a house, then words are the bricks and grammar is the binding agent that joins them together. Both are important. However, it is possible – at least in theory – to build a house with bricks only, though it won’t be safe to live in, whereas cement on its own is good for nothing (though here I may not be quite right as I’m not a builder, but you got the idea).

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Now, how many words do you need to know to be able to effectively communicate in a language? Well, let’s first make a distinction between active and passive vocabulary. Passive vocabulary includes those lexical items (words, idioms, collocations etc.) you recognise and understand when you come across them in text or speech. Active vocabulary as you might have already guessed is what you can actually use in your speaking and writing. No prizes for guessing which one is bigger.

Continue reading “Vocabulary: How Many Words Do You Need to Know?”