Jiggery-pokery: Deceitful or dishonest manipulation; hocus-pocus, humbug. It was first documented in 1893, but a related term, Scots joukery-pawkery (clever trickery, jugglery, or legerdemain) is attested from 1686. The latter term is a compound of jouk (a sudden elusive movement) and pawky (artful, sly, shrewd, roguish).
Jiggery-pokery was in the news last week after it appeared in U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in King v. Burwell, the 6-3 decision to allow the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, to stand. Scalia wrote:
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.
Elsewhere in his dissent, Scalia dismissed the majority opinion as “pure applesauce.” Applesauce is a bit of 1920s slang meaning “nonsense,” “horsefeathers,” or—to put it more plainly than Scalia is wont to do—“bullshit.”
“It’s a very cranky piece of writing,” observed Ben Mathis-Lilley in Slate.
Scalia is famous for his use of arcane invective. Last year, in his minority dissent in the Defense of Marriage Act opinion, Scalia dismissed the majority opinion as “legalistic argle-bargle”—another quaint term that originated in Scotland. (“He was looking for something a bit more exotic than 'mumbo-jumbo,'” lexicographer Ben Zimmer told The Wire.)
And in yet another dissent—this one issued last Friday in the case that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States—Scalia deployed “mummeries” (ridiculous ceremonies) and “Putsch” (a German word, usually lower case when used in the U.S., meaning “an attempt to take over or overthrow a government or organization”).
But it was “jiggery-pokery” that “broke the Internet,” as the blog Above the Law put it. The double-dactylic rhythm of the phrase proved irresistible to Jonathon Owen, who tweeted this verse:
On “The Nightly Show,” host Larry Wilmore wondered aloud whether “jiggery-pokery” was racist or merely “racist-adjacent.” He may have been alluding to the similar-sounding jigaboo, an offensive term for an African-American person (first documented in 1909; origin unknown, although probably related to jig).
And on Headsup: The Blog, Fred Vultee compared Justice Scalia’s prose to the advice of Strunk and White (The Elements of Style).