Honky tonk; honky

Posted by ESC on February 13, 2002

In Reply to: Honkytonk - term origin? posted by The Fallen on February 12, 2002

: : I thought of this because I happened to catch "Honkytonk Woman" on the radio. Looked up Honkytonk and found that apart from meaning a roadside bar with pickups in the parking lot, it's also an adjective used to describe a particular variety of ragtime. Anyway, the origin is unknown and I wondered if anyone here had any ideas.

: : Thanks,

: : Camel

: My money would be on onomatopoeia - Honkytonk as a light-hearted approximation of the sound of a piano playing ragtime. Though I now have got musing and therefore have to pose the further question and ask - is there any connection between honkytonk and the no doubt outmoded derisory generic term "honky" used in Black American street slang to describe white Caucasians?

I think it probably does mimic the sound of music (to use another phrase). I don't think it has to do with honky:
HONKY OR HONKIE - This derogatory term for white people probably evolved from "hunkies," according to two references. Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner by Geneva Smitherman (Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1994): "Honky - a negative term for a white person. Probably derived and borrowed from the name-calling and expression of resentment by settled European Americans against central and Eastern Europeans immigrants, who were negatively referred to as 'hunkies' (from Hungarians). Blacks, in competition with these immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century, generalized the term to all whites. Also hunky."
Ditto for Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Fact on File, New York, 1997): "HONKIE; BOHUNK - 'Bohunk,' a low expression for a Polish- or Hungarian-American, arose at the turn of the century, and is probably a blend of Bohemian and Hungarian (both Poles and Hungarians were called Bohemians). 'Bohunks' were also ' hunkies,' and black workers in the Chicago meat-packing plants probably pronounced this as 'honkie,' soon applying it as a derisive term not just for their Polish and Hungarian co-workers but for all whites."

A personal note: in West Virginia "hunkie" means Italian-American.