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In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries hokey-pokey was a British English term for a cheap sort of ice cream sold by street-vendors (‘Three hokey-pokey ice-cream hand-carts, one after another, turned the corner of Trafalgar Road,’ Arnold Bennett, Clayhanger, 1910). It presumably came from the cry with which the vendors hawked it, although what this originally was is not known (one suggestion put forward in the 1880s was Italian O che poco! ‘Oh how little!’—a reference to price, presumably, rather than quantity—which is given some plausibility by the fact that many ice-cream sellers at that time were Italian).

Nowadays the word is used in New Zealand for a sort of crunchy toffee bar, and also for ice cream containing little pieces of such toffee.

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.

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