Word Watch: Hunker Down

The East Coast is getting clobbered by a “bomb cyclone” and weather stories (rather than actual weather) are a guilty pleasure of mine. Probably one of the few things I could have managed as a straight news reporter. If clichés  were traded on a linguistic S&P 500, now would be a great time to go long on weather ones, in particularly go out and buy some “hunker down” futures!

A nice instance comes from the end of the Times story on the storm,

Carpodacus mexicanus (House Finch) location: Sierra Nevada, taken by Steve Ryan. I’m sure this guy is saying, “I’ve got the hunker down thing down.”

“The birds that are wintering down there are going to have to hunker down and deal with the conditions,” he said. [He being Geoff LeBaron, the director of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count.]

This piqued my curiosity about “hunker down” and to learn more I dropped in at the OED to see what background  they offered:

 

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.

a. To squat, with the haunches, knees, and ankles acutely bent, so as to bring the hams near the heels, and throw the whole weight upon the fore part of the feet.”

b.transf. To cower or squat in a lowly manner.

c. [draft] fig. With down. To concentrate one’s resources, esp. in unfavourable circumstances; to dig in, buckle down; spec. (frequently in Mil. contexts) to shelter or take cover, lie low. orig. and chiefly U.S.

This leads to the interesting image of a bird, “squat, with the haunches, knees, and ankles acutely bent”

I’m sure this guy is saying, “I’ve got the hunker down thing down.” Carpodacus mexicanus (House Finch) location: Sierra Nevada, taken by Steve Ryan.

Of course it’s the figurative use that OED sniffs at with “draft” that everybody uses (I can’t recall a literal hunker in my reading or conversation). How did a squat cower turn in to settling in and riding out the storm?

 

 

 

In any case, hoping wherever you are you are warm, dry, and hunkered down safely.

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