Posted by E. on November 30, 1999

In Reply to: Expression derivation posted by Bruce Kahl 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."

The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins has similar theories concerning the Japanese street and the Dutch word meaning "goal." "...But there's another theory, that the whole thing started with a song sung by the Christy Minstrels during the Civil War. It was called 'Josephus Orange Blossom' and contained a line about 'red-hot hunky-dory contraband.' The song was a great hit and hunky-dory became part of the popular slang of the period. Now this was, as we said, during our (U.S.) Civil War. Since Japan was not opened to foreign ships until Commodore Perry's visit in 1854, it seems a bit doubtful that the Yokohama theory will hold water though that remains a possibility. Our guess, though, is that hunky-dory was already an established slang term when American sailors first had shore leave on Huncho-dori Street..."