Monday, October 31, 2016

Okey Dokey?

A restaurant in Houston’s Heights specializing in British food calls itself “Hunky Dory,” which means “quite satisfactory or very fine.” Apparently lifted from the title of a 1971 David Bowie album, it’s an odd name for an establishment serving fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and spotted dick, since “hunky dory” is an Americanism. Beyond that, the experts can’t tell us much with any certainty.

Its earliest usage was in the 1860s. With a slightly different spelling, it appeared in the lyrics of a song used by the Christy Minstrels from 1862:
            One of the boys am I,
            That always am in clover;
            With spirits light and high,
            'Tis well I'm known all over.
            I am always to be found,
            A singing in my glory;
            With your smiling faces
            ‘Tis then I'm hunkey dorey.

The Galveston Daily News in a June 1866 article advised, “In the morning wash with Castile soap, in soft rain water, and you are all "Hunky-dore" - as fresh as a lily…”

The word hunky, without the dory, meaning “fit and healthy.” was around even earlier. A Civil War song in 1861 was called “A Hunkey Boy is Yankee Doodle,” and “hunkum-bunkum,” with the same meaning, was recorded in a newspaper as early as 1842.

“Hunk” probably derives from the Dutch word honk, meaning “goal” or “home,” in a children's game. From that usage it took on the meaning of “safe haven or place of refuge.”

There are at least a couple of theories about where “dory” came from. Most likely it is simply an instance of reduplication, the addition of a similar but meaningless sound to a word, often done, especially by children, to add colorful humor and emphasis. Examples of reduplication include “hocus pocus,” “hoity-toity,” “itty bitty,” “teeny-weeny,” and “mumbo jumbo.” According to that theory, though, the reduplication should have resulted in “hunky-dunky,” rather than “hunky dory.”

But some think “dory” is a bilingual pun, based on dori, a Japanese word for “street,” and honcho-dori, is a Japanese word for “main street,” or sometimes “easy street.” It was sometimes used by American sailors in Japan in the 1850s to refer to areas noted for easy virtue.

Critics of the Bard of Buffalo Bayou have never called his work “hunky dory.” Words that come to mind instead are “stinky-dinky,” “yucky-mucky,” and “lousy-wousy.”

            “Itsy bitsy, teenie weenie,
            Yellow polka-dot bikini”—
            Oh, how I wish those words were only mine!
            My royalties would go on forever,
            And with any luck I’d never
            Have to write another lousy line!

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