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, usually with down, as to hunker down.

Notes: We all heard this word a lot during hurricanes, when some people choose not to evacuate, but to hunker down and stay. Of course, they probably didn't sit on their hunkers (haunches), but some of them were probably hunkerish, which is to say, conservative and old-fashioned.

In Play: Of course, we have different kinds of storms that require hunkering: "Voters need to hunker down and brace themselves against the storm of political ads preceding the November 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 (someone who crouches) and, possibly, even Greek ankon "elbow", which might be related by the sense of bending. (Let's now thank Ron LeClair for suggesting we hunker down and explore today's fascinating Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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