During Hurricane Harvey and its long-lasting rainy aftermath, Houstonians were advised by public officials, news media, solicitous friends, and even a few total strangers to “hunker down.” I’ve never been very clear about how I should go about hunkering. It sounds as if it involves some contorted physical effort which, at my age and in my condition, would be inadvisable. I generally prefer to “settle back” instead.
Everyone agrees the original meaning of the word “hunker” was to “crouch or squat.” But etymologists are divided about its origins. Some trace it to 1720 in Scotland, theorizing it was a nasalized borrowing of the Old Norse huka (“crouch”) or hokra (“crawl”). Others wish to establish a relationship with the northern British noun “hunker,” which means “haunch.” Webster traces it to Middle Low German hoken, which means either “squat” or “peddle.”
In any event, “hunker” found its way into Southern U. S. dialect around 1900, coupled with the word “down,” and meaning to “dig in for a sustained period.” For some unexplained reason the term “hunker down” entered widespread general usage around 1965.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou hunkers down a lot, but that’s because he can’t move from that position after his third glass of cheap Chardonnay.
A banker who hankered to hunker
Settled down for a while in a bunker.
But that dirty old stinker
Was a punk and a drinker,
And he hunkered until he got drunker.