Poll: Is "bohunk" offensive?

Today I sent a message to one of my lists in which I referred to getting a massage from “the bohunk of your choice.” To my shock, someone pointed me to my dictionary, which informed me that “bohunk” is a slur on Bohemian/Hungarians!

I was floored. I had no idea. I’ve always heard it in reference to a big, sorta-dumb, sexy, Jethro-Bodine-type man. Never in a negative context, and never as a racial slur. It was something you wanted! (If you’re into big sexy men who do your bidding, that is.) I thought it came from “bodacious hunk” or “beau-hunk” or something like that. Someone also suggested “boy hunk” as her interpretation.

It was implied that maybe it’s a regional thing. I’ve always lived in central Wisconsin. Yet I found an account written by a man living near Marshfield, about an hour north of me, who described the hurt of being called a Bohunk in this area in the 1930s.

Is this term outgrowing its offensive meaning? I also found lots of sites using the term in the way that I intended it: “Hollywood bohunk Vin Diesel” and so on.

I don’t intend to use it in mixed company in the future; I’m just curious about how other people define this term. What did you think it meant before you read this thread? And what are your geographic or linguistic influences?

My father’s parents were born in Hungary, and he was raised on the south side of Chicago. He was quite familiar with the term.

He considered “bohunk” (also sometimes “hunkie”) to be exactly on a par with “kraut” “polack” and “dago.”

The idea that “bohunk” would ever be considered a complimentary term would have made him laugh until he cried.

You can use it around mixed company all you want. Just don’t use it around people of central European heritage.

Don’t they call Molly Ringwald’s sister’s fiance in Sixteen Candles a bohunk? I think that’s the only time I’ve ever heard it. I’m from eastern Iowa. The worst (non n-word) ethnic insult I knew was “pollock.”

Well, there’s the rub, isn’t it – how do you know? I think I’ll keep it among friends, and avoid it when I don’t know everyone well. (Not that I go around talking about bohunks all the time!)

I’m reminded of another term I’ve mostly stopped using in public: Somehow when I was a kid, it became a joke among my mom, my sister and me to say “You’ve got a wog on your face,” meaning a blob of food or something. Hee hee hee, what a funny word. Years later I learned that it was a slur on Asian Indians. Oops.

Huh. My father often refers to himself as a “bokraut”. Being the son of immigrants (German and Bohemian), from small town Minnesota, I’d guess he both had the right to use it, and little idea of any potential offensiveness in it. I know that I learned it was a slur sometime after reaching my teen years, and it wouldn’t offend me in the least.

It’s odd, really, the Bohemian side of the family is really easy going, but many of the other Bohemian’s (who I learned to be such) had a very strong Bohemian identity, and were very conscious of slights.

I thought that’s what it meant, too, until just now. Fortunately, it’s not a word I’ve ever tossed around in casual conversation, as far as I can recall. (At least I hope I haven’t, now that I know what it means!)

On a similar note, this weekend, my future father-in-law cracked a light-hearted joke in reference to his Italian wife, saying “I’ve never known a dago who wasn’t superstitious.” I was stumped, and asked what that word was. My SO looked at me like I was stupid, and said, “Superstitious?”

“No, dago. What’s it mean?”

After they finished laughing at me, FFIL kindly explained that it’s a slur about Italians, and probably not a word I should use if I didn’t know the connotations. Huh. I have never, in 33 years, encountered that word, so I’m glad he clued me in before I tried to sound cool in front of a bunch of that Italian side of the family.

Wow, I always had the exact same interpretation of it, and had absolutely no idea there was any racial connotation. Now I know. (And knowing is half the battle. Yo, Joe!)

Kind of a hijack: a common expression to say “thanks,” at least in the southern US, is to say, “That’s mighty white of you.” I still use it in cases where it’s clear that I’m being sarcastic or ironic and there won’t be any offense taken (for example, with my non-white friends, as a joke). I was having a conversation with a Cockausian friend of mine over IM, though, and it went something like this:
Her: I’ll send you the link.
Me: That’s mighty white of you.
(long pause)
Her: Oh my god. I’ve never seen that in print.
Me: What do you mean?
Her: I always thought it was “that’s mighty WIDE of you.”
Me: What is that supposed to mean?
Her: I don’t know, I thought it was just an expression!
Her: I can’t believe I’ve been saying that all these years!
Me: Racist.
Her: I KNOW!

Didja hear the one about the Italian Racing Tires?

When dago flat, dago “wop, wop, wop, wop…”

I’m half Sicilian, and I love that one…


See, this just illustrates something I’ve noticed about so many slurs . . . they’re kind of creative and amusing from a wordsmith’s point of view, if you ignore their nasty intent – sort of like those “most beautiful words” lists that ignore meaning and include diarrhea, cuspidor, and so on.

A friend of mine told me that her bigot dad used to (no shit) run down the names in the phone book and rattle off slurs on each name’s ethnicity: “Jew, Jew, wop, wop, Polack . . .” We were laughing at the absurdity of this and ended up making up a singsong rhyme of it. Really fun but of course completely objectionable and unrepeatable. Too bad, really.

I was rather shocked recently to find that “mulatto” has been rechristened as a slur.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word used in such a way to describe an attractive guy. (just hunk, on the other hand…) Of the very few times I’ve heard anyone say it, it was in reference to Bohemians; given that there are very few immigrants - compared to other parts of the country- in this state, I suppose it stands to reason that it isn’t used a lot in my hearing. And, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve heard many people use “hunk” since the 80s either.

Wasn’t this term used as a slur in some piece of classic literature? I want to say in My Antonia but that might not be right.

What’s wierd to me is that I’ve always thought “Dago” was a slur on the Spanish. Makes a certain amount of sense, assuming it’s a corruption of the common Spanish surname, “Diego.” I’ve even seen it used as such, in a novel set in the 18th century (The Pyrates) by George MacDonald Frasier, a writer who really knows his history. I wonder if it somehow jumped nationalities at one point, or it’s some sort of wierd lingusitic conincidence, or if me and Mr. Frasier are just idiots.

Reading this thread, I just realized that I’ve never made the connection between the word “bohemian” and Bohemia. I always liked the word bohemian, which I thought (and I think I was taught) simply meant nonconformist/unusual, or someone who lives an alternative lifestyle. It was a word with very positive connotations for me–usually applied to someone who was outside the mainstream but very cool. I guess my usage shouldn’t be offensive, but perhaps those people who always think “different = bad” might take offense.

I’m in my late 20s and I have never heard a racial slur except perhaps “nigger” being used by black people. I must live a very sheltered life. Because of this lack of exposure, I still don’t know the meaning of many racial slurs, and wouldn’t have a clue what someone was referring to if I did hear them.

I grew up in western North Dakota/eastern Montana and though the term was rarely used, I’ve heard “bohunk” as both a derogative (meaning a not-very-bright person or an unsophisticted person of Germanic heritage) and as description of geographic origin (like “Swedish”).


My gradfather always called my older brother “dago”. For years I thought he was referring to my brother’s looks, which didn’t make sense. I had assumed he meant dago as in Italian or Spanish in appearance. I finally asked my mother about it and it was because my brother was born in San Diego. Definately an “Ohhhh…I get it” moment.

You think being called a mule was ever meant to be a compliment, or even neutral? At best it’s uncomfortably outdated, like “Negro”. At worst it suggests an unnatural hybrid that, while only half-tainted by “Negro blood”, is still not really a proper (white) human being.

The word had the variation in the steel belt region of the country, of millhunk – meaning the Eastern European immigrants who did the dangerous, dirty work in the steel mills. The implication going along with the name was slum-dwelling, ill-educated, coarse, non-English speaking, low-class, and no-account. It really was the caucasian equivalent of nigger.

And of course, the other variation on the theme is the obviously offensive “hunkey/honkey.”

And what about “podunk”? Or a bohunk from podunk Iowa?

In that vein, when all the “Ho-Chunk” casinos started popping up around here, I thought it was a reference to the noise coins make in slot machines. Later I learned that it’s the name of the Indian nation that runs them.

Here’s some bizarre synchronicity for you: Last night were were watching some DVDs, and after the last one I hit the button to switch to TV – which was showing a discussion of the word “bohunk”!!! It was a VH-1 show about Sixteen Candles. Too weird!

Are “nicknames” ever ok? For any nationality.

In NZ (and Australia), English people are “Poms”.

Most of us have never used the term to slag someone off. It is is more a term of gentle teasing. Well less then that…we are just used to calling them that. I have Pommy Grandparents. I called them Poms at any given opportunity. It was never seen as an insult, just what they were.

English types are Poms, Australians are bloody Aussies ( :D), Americans are Yanks. These are all friendly names, not meant to cause any offense. Are they ok? Or is any slang name not ok?