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Expression derivation

Posted by Bruce Kahl on November 26, 1999

In Reply to: Expression derivation posted by Richard Stock on November 26, 1999

: What is the derivation of the expression "Every thing is hunky dory".

Probably the most oft-heard story about "hunky-dory" holds that there was, in the 19th century, a street in Yokohama, Japan, called "Honcho-dori." It is said that Honcho-dori was the Times Square of Yokohama, and thus a favorite hangout of U.S. sailors on shore leave. So popular did this street become among sailors, it is said, that "Honcho-dori" entered naval slang as "hunky-dory," a synonym for "Easy Street," or a state of well-being and comfort.
Now, there actually is a "Honcho-dori" in Yokohama. (In fact, there's one in many Japanese cities, because "Honcho-dori" translates roughly as "Main Street.") But there are two problems with this story. One is that there is no direct evidence of any connection between the first appearance of "hunky-dory" around 1866 and U.S. sailors in Japan or naval slang in general.
Problem number two is that a connection with "Honcho-dori" is somewhat unnecessary. English already had the archaic American slang word "hunk," meaning "safe," from the Dutch word "honk," meaning "goal," or "home" in a game. To achieve "hunk" or "hunky" in a child's game was to make it "home" and win the game. So "hunky" already meant "O.K."
Where the "dory" came from is more of a mystery. It may have arisen as what linguists call "reduplication," or the emphatic, joking repetition of parts of a word, as in "okey-dokey." Or the "dory" may actually be a reference to the Japanese "Honcho-dori" grafted on after "hunky" was already in use as slang. There is some evidence that a Japanese stage performer popular in the U.S. claimed to have introduced "hunky-dory" around 1865. What he actually may have done is blend the name of a Japanese street with our American "hunky."

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