Reading U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent (p. 8) from the majority in King et al. v. Burwell, I encountered the following term (emphasis mine),

“The Court’s next bit of interpretive jiggery-pokery involves other parts of the Act that purportedly presuppose the availability of tax credits on both federal and state Exchanges.”

At first blush, having never before laid eyes on the term, I thought Justice Scalia had simply invented “jiggery pokery” willy-nilly, if you will. A Google search soon disabused me of that notion.

Oxford Online had this to say,

jiggery-pokery noun: informal, chiefly British: deceitful or dishonest behavior.

As to the origins of jiggery-pokery, etymonline returned no matches, while Oxford Online says only,

Late 19th century: probably a variant of Scots joukery-pawkery, from jouk 'dodge, skulk', of unknown origin.

Can anyone remedy this paucity?

  • Are you looking for a suitable, more appropriate synonym?
    – user66974
    Jun 28, 2015 at 18:46
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    Keep in mind that there are probably a hundred variations on the perhaps better-known term of "higglety-pigglety", meaning "arbitrary" or "messy". That some of these terms would originate or evolve to mean "dishonest" is not surprising, since the concepts blur.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 28, 2015 at 19:08
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    As a British speaker, I feel I've seen plenty of uses of "jiggery-pokery" over the years, but oddly I've always assumed that it's an American term. When I read it, I see a plain spoken overall wearing mechanic in a dusty fly over state town fixing an old radio or knee deep in an ornery jalopy that needs a good talking to. It's a word I expect to hear on A Prairie Home Companion. Jun 28, 2015 at 19:28
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    Relevant link: loweringthebar.net/2015/06/pure-applesauce.html Jun 28, 2015 at 20:17
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    Jiggery pokery is also used by Harry Potter as a made-up spell (supposedly to set a hedge on fire or something like that); i.e., it’s at least perceived as akin to abracadabra, hocus pocus, etc., repetitive incantation-like phrases that ‘sound’ onomatopoeic and evocative more than having any real meaning. I’ve always just assumed that it had to do with jiggering and poking around (which is kind of dodgy and deceit-ish in itself), but I guess not. Jun 28, 2015 at 20:33

2 Answers 2


The following sources try to shed some light on its origin which actually remains still unclear:

Jiggery-pokery: (World Wide Words)

  • It’s not so much found these days, though it is a delightful word for describing underhand practices or dishonest manipulation of individuals for personal profit People also mean by it some form of trickery, especially the arcane manipulation required to make an item of technical equipment work the way you want it to (“most handsets need some jiggery-pokery to be Apple compatible”; “it may lead to copied games running straight from the DVD without the need for any further jiggery pokery”).
  • The charm of jiggery-pokery lies partly in its bouncing rhythm, a classic example of what’s called a double dactyl, a dactyl being a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables; dactyl is named after the Greek word for finger, whose joints represent the three syllables. Other examples of double dactyls are higgledy-piggledy and idiosyncrasy.
  • The word appears at the end of the nineteenth century and is first recorded in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire dialect. The English Dialect Dictionary quotes an Oxford example, “I was fair took in with that fellow’s jiggery-pokery over that pony.” The experts are sure that it actually comes from a Scots phrase of the seventeenth century, joukery-pawkery.
  • The first bit of it means underhand dealing, from a verb of obscure origin, jouk, that means to dodge or skulk; this might be linked to jink and to the American football term juke, to make a move that’s intended to deceive an opponent (the other juke, as in jukebox, has a different origin). The second bit is from pawky, a Scottish and Northern English word that can mean artful, sly, or shrewd, though it often turns up in the sense of a sardonic sense of humour.

Jiggery-pockery from (sesquiotic.wordpress.com)

  • Take jiggery-pokery. It’s a perky, jiggly word that brings to mind jiggers of liquor and finger pokes and elbow nudges and who knows what else. It’s been seen in English for at least ten dozen years (or sixscore, if that’s how you keep score). Where does it come from, this word for deceitful manipulation? The Oxford English Dictionary says “compare Scots joukery-pawkery.” So we do. That term, known since at least 1686, is formed from joukery (‘underhand dealing, deceit’) and a derived form of pawky (‘artful, sly arch, wry, sardonic’, etc.).

  • OK, so where is joukery from? The verb jouk (also jook), ‘dodge, duck, dart’. And where is jouk from? The OED says it is “A Scottish word of uncertain origin.” It notes the sound resemblance to duck.

  • Ummhmmm. And pawky? Apparently from the noun pawk, the OED tells us. And pawk, which used to mean ‘trick, artifice, cunning device’ and now in northern English dialect means ‘impertinence, sauciness’? The OED says “Origin unknown. Compare pawky.” In other words, at the end it loops back to just before the end. It’s like the inner groove on the original Sergeant Pepper LPs: once the needle has played the record to the centre groove, it plays a track that repeats infinitely until you lift the needle.

  • So. You thought you would get somewhere. Maybe this word is related to jigger? It seems not to be. Or to poke or poker? Again, no. In both cases, the original words have just been shifted so that they sound like the new words. Imagine someone who started hanging out with you and who then got cosmetic surgery to look like a member of your family. Creepy? Happens all the time in English.

  • I’m telling you, when you hang with English words you get into some pretty louche territory. But that’s hardly surprising, given that English is a language that, as James Nicoll is famous for having said, “has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.” The dodginess is part of its charm. And if it jigs you and pokes you and slips a jigger in your drink and knocks you out with a poker, well, that’s just in its nature.

Usage examples from ODO:

  • But this bit of scientific jiggery-pokery leaves my mind in an even more boggled state than usual.

  • However, they only managed to conjure this up by jiggery-pokery.

  • Why does that require ‘work’, unless there's some jiggery-pokery going on to ensure that the chart doesn't actually reflect the real numbers?

Ngram jiggery-pokery (BrE vs AmE)

  • +1. Thank you. Interesting, 61. So then, "jiggery-pokery" also connotes to "jury rigging"?
    – user98990
    Jun 28, 2015 at 19:03
  • It kooks like is does!
    – user66974
    Jun 28, 2015 at 19:03
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    True that, @Avon, I've gotta give it time, though.
    – user98990
    Jun 28, 2015 at 21:08
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    The OED does have an entry for it: Etymology: Compare Scots joukery-pawkery (see joukery n. Compounds). colloq. Deceitful or dishonest ‘manipulation’; hocus-pocus, humbug. 1893 G. E. Dartnell & E. H. Goddard Gloss. Words Wilts. 86. 1926 E. F. Spanner Naviators ix. 104, I thought..it was some more jiggery-pokery to keep down the expenditure this financial year. 1943 Mind 52 304, I share with Gray the feeling that there's some jiggery pokery here and that what you are doing is not what one tends to feel you are doing. continued
    – WS2
    Jun 28, 2015 at 22:26
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    B Fwd. 1973 G. Mitchell Murder of Busy Lizzie ii. 23 Business reasons could make any alliance respectable..so long as there was no jiggery-pokery.
    – WS2
    Jun 28, 2015 at 22:26

OED gives the Scottish joukery-pawkery n. (clever trickery, jugglery, legerdemain) as the ultimate origin and the first usage is from 1686:

Deil fetcht was it but Jewkrypawkry.

G. Stuart Joco-serious Disc. 59

It can serve as roadside laughs as well:

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Image source: staff.co.nz

  • That's funny hahaha, +1 ermanen
    – user98990
    Jun 30, 2015 at 5:28

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