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Old 03-23-2020, 07:28 AM
RivkahChaya's Avatar
RivkahChaya is offline
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"Hunker Down": origin of phrase?

Everyone is talking about "Hunkering down" now, but I'm realizing that I've never heard the word "hunker" in any other context. Where is it from, and what does it mean?

I looked it up, and found "American origin." Thanks. Not helpful. I imagine America stole it from somewhere, but where? What did it originally mean?
"There's always a non-Voodoo explanation for everything." ~Adrian Monk
Old 03-23-2020, 07:33 AM
Snowboarder Bo's Avatar
Snowboarder Bo is offline
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Here ya go:
“Hunker” (which we rarely hear without “down”) first emerged in the Scots language in the 18th century. It originally referred to squatting down on the balls of one’s feet, keeping low to the ground but still ready to move if necessary. The word likely comes from a Germanic root with descendants in other languages, all having to do with crouching, such as the Dutch huiken, the Old Norse húka and the German hocke.

The Dictionary of the Scots Language provides examples going back to 1720, when the term appeared in a line of poetry: “And hunk’ring down upon the cald Grass.” In Scots, one could also describe a low squatting position as “sitting on one’s hunkers” or “sitting hunker-dottie.”
Seems to be related to the word "haunch".

When “hunker down” entered American English, it took on more metaphorical meanings. A list of regionalisms from southeast Missouri published in 1903 defined the phrase as “to get down to one’s work.” Lyndon Johnson took the expression from his Texan upbringing and introduced it into American political discourse. When facing adversity during his presidency, he said he could only “hunker down like a jackass in a hailstorm and take it.” (Sometimes, he changed it to a “jack rabbit.”)

Last edited by Snowboarder Bo; 03-23-2020 at 07:35 AM.
Old 03-23-2020, 07:37 AM
Andy L is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
Posts: 7,610
From the OED:

"hunker, v.

Brit. /ˈhʌŋkə/
, U.S. /ˈhəŋkər/
, Scottish /ˈhʌŋkər/
Frequency (in current use):
Etymology: Origin obscure: it has the form of an iterative from a stem hunk-. Compare Middle Dutch hucken, huken (Verwijs and Verdam), Middle Low German hûken, Dutch huiken (Franck), Old Norse húka, modern German hocken (Kluge) to sit on the hams or heels, to squat. These words point to an original ablaut series heuk-, hûk, huk- (hok-); from this hunk-er, might perhaps be a nasalized derivative. Old Norse hok-ra to crouch may be a parallel form; Dutch hunkeren to hanker, is not connected.(Show Less)
Originally Scottish."

"c. figurative. With down. To concentrate one's resources, esp. in unfavourable circumstances; to dig in, buckle down; spec. (frequently in Military contexts) to shelter or take cover, lie low. Originally and chiefly U.S."
Old 03-24-2020, 09:15 PM
fsumm is offline
Join Date: Mar 2020
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I see this guy use it all the time
Old 03-24-2020, 09:36 PM
drad dog is offline
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A good prominent modern usage is in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and other HST work.

He also used feckless, which was another good one.
Old 03-25-2020, 06:21 AM
jtur88 is offline
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Ngram shows sudden increase in 1980
Old 03-25-2020, 10:38 AM
Dingbang is offline
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 697
Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
Ngram shows sudden increase in 1980
"Hunker down, you hairy dawgs!" is a popular rallying call for the University of Georgia bulldogs football team. UGA won the 1980 national championshp game.

"Hunker down" in this context means "dig in your heels, get serious now, hold the line, this is the time to fight..."


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