The English Phrase “Hunker Down” Was Popularized By?
Answer: A 1950s College Fad
The term “hunker” has such a long history that the exact first usage is unknown, but it is believed to have appeared in English by way of Scottish, which in turn possibly acquired it from a Scandinavian source (Old Norse, “huka”, which means to crouch).
In fact, the term is so far removed from its origins that most people use the modern phrase “hunker down” as an idiom to mean “to take shelter” or “to prepare for an eventuality”, of which both meanings are captured in sentences like: “We’ll hunker down for the storm.” and “I’m hunkered down studying for the SATs.”
Originally, the word “hunker” was used in English to indicate squatting and firmly planting yourself on the ground, and by extension, “hunker down” meant stubbornly holding to a position, opinion, etc. Although the term was in use during the mid-20th century, it didn’t gain a mainstream foothold until a peculiar fad burst onto the scene in 1959.
The fad started at the University of Arkansas in a Sigma Chi frat house where a shortage of chairs during meetings led the fraternity brothers to jokingly propose that they hunker down and squat like their Ozark mountain forefathers were fond of doing. When the fraternity brothers started hunkerin’ around campus, the trend spread, then jumped to other universities across the southern U.S., and quickly spread coast to coast. Like many fads, there was a competitive element and many people participating in it would get together and have contests to see who could hunker the longest.
Fans of the fad claimed that hunkerin’ was a good way to spend time with people because the very act of squatting down lent itself to encouraging you to stay where you were and engage in a conversation. Although the fad was, over all, quite short lived, it injected the word “hunkering” and the phrase to “hunker down” into the vocabulary of millions of young adults across the country.