Printable Version
Pronunciation: hêng-kêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: 1. To squat, to sit on your haunches, to crouch. 2. To dig in your heels, to hold on stubbornly or protectively, usually with down, as to hunker down.

Notes: We all hear this word a lot in the midst of the corona virus scare when people are advised or ordered to stay at home and hunker down until it's over. Of course, they probably didn't sit on their hunkers, but some of them are probably hunkerish, which is to say, conservative and old-fashioned.

In Play: Of course, storms also require hunkering: "Voters need to hunker down and brace themselves against the storm of political ads during the elections." Let's not forget the original meaning of this word, though, which is simply to sit back on our haunches: "Rose Gardner hunkered down and began pulling the weeds from her little flower plot."

Word History: It seems to contain hunk, but how could that word be related? It doesn't seem to be. Rather, hunker appears to be a cousin of German hocken "crouch, squat", which would relate it to haunch. This word came from Old French hanche, which was borrowed from Frankish hanka, the origin of Old High German einka "leg". Einka comes from the same source as Latin Ancus, a common name for a servant. Apparently, Roman servants crouched or squatted rather than scraping and bowing. It may even be related to Greek ankon "elbow" since both involve bending. (Let's now thank Frank Myers for suggesting we hunker down and explore today's fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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