Posted by Word Camel on February 14, 2002

In Reply to: Malevolent posted by The Fallen on February 14, 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

: : : : : : : : : honky-tonk. The first printed use of this word for a cheap dance hall featuring gambling or burlesque shows, in a February 1894 Oklahoma newspaper, described a _honk-a-tonk_ "well attended by ball-heads, bachelors and leading citizens." No one is sure how the word originated. The British attribute it to America, calling _honky-tonk_ "Negro slang," while one American authority claims it is from the English dialect word _bonk_, "to idle about." Either way _honky-tonk_ is a reduplication, with _tonk_ repeating the sound of _honk_. "... It was nothing for a man to be drug out of them dead," testified a jazz musician of an early _honky-tonk_.
: : : : : : : : : From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson

: : : : : : : : : The honk-a-tonk last night was well attended by ball-heads, bachelors and leading citizens. (_Daily Ardmoreite_, February 24, 1894)

: : : : : : : : : These honkey-tonks ran wide open twenty-four hours a day and it was nothing for a man to be drug out of one of them dead. Their attendance was some of the lowest caliber women in the world and their intake was from the little, pitiful gambling games they operated, waiting for a sucker to come in. (Alan Lomax, _Mister Jelly Roll_, 1950)

: : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : As far as I recall, the word "bonk", at least as used in Britain, definitely did not mean "to idle about." Is it just me, or does almost every term to do with Jazz music have a sexual conotation? A "jelly roll" for example, is an orgasm according to the recent documentary.

: : : : : : : : The onomatopoeia idea is interesting, but I'm not completely convinced. It seems to me that if they were that common in English there'd be some contemporary ones we could point to.

: : : : : : : The word "bonk" may be a typo for "honk."

: : : : : : : Eric Partridge, in _A Dictionary of Slang, The Supplement_, wrote: "Perhaps either a rhyming reduplication of _honk_, to make a honking noise ..., or related to N.W. England dial. _honk_, to idle about.

: : : : : : That would explain it.

: : : : : HONKY-TONK - noun. ".Origin. West. a disreputable, usu., small, establishment where liquor, gambling, and (esp. in early use) prostitutes are available; a cheap dance hall, casino, or saloon; (hence) a tawdry bar or nightclub. Now S.E. (Standard English) . Also (obsolete) honkatonk. 1894 in DA (Dictionary of Americanisms, Mathews): 'The honk-a-tonk last night was well attended by ball heads, bachelors and leading citizens.' From Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 2, H-O by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994.

: : : : : Another source has more information about the jazz connection:
: : : : : honky-tonk n. rag-time music or jazz of a type played in the sort of insalubrious drinking saloons or dance-halls known as 'honky-tonks,' especially on the piano. Originally US. That 'drinking-saloon' usage dates from the late 19th century, but it is not known where it came from. 1936 'Swing Music': 'Superficially, 'Honky Tonk' is the musical interpretation of a train journey; fundamentally it is a twelve-bar blues.'" From "20th Century Words: The Story of New Words in English Over the Last 100 Years" by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, New York, 1999).

: : : : : And "to honky tonk" or "honky tonkin'" is also a verb meaning to drive around and visit a series of honky tonks in an evening. A practice also known as "jukin'" because part of the evening's entertainment is playing the jukebox:

: : : : : HONKY TONKIN'
: : : : : Words and music by Hank Williams, Sr.
: : : : : When you are sad and lonely and have no place to go
: : : : : Call me up, sweet baby, and bring along some dough
: : : : : And we'll go Honky Tonkin', Honky Tonkin'
: : : : : Honky Tonkin', Honey Baby
: : : : : We'll go Honky Tonkin' 'round this town.

: : : : : And there's the song that started this discussion:
: : : : : (Rolling Stones)

: : : : : I met a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis,
: : : : : She tried to take me upstairs for a ride.
: : : : : She had to heave me right across her shoulder,
: : : : : Cause I just can't seem to drink you off my mind.
: : : : : It's the honky tonk women,
: : : : : That gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues.
: : : : I've heard what sounded to me like honky-tonk piano described as barrelhouse piano. Same thing?

: : : While the guitar wasn't introduced to the blues until the 1920s, the piano had been part of the blues music mix since the turn of the century, decades before the blues was recorded.

: : : Piano blues encompasses myriad blues offshoots, including turn-of-the-century "ragtime" style (similar to the piano music heard in the movie "The Sting"), boogie-woogie (an up-tempo style played mostly with the left hand and having a pronounced eight-beats-to the-bar figure), New Orleans "second line" (a hip-shaking blues piano style combining heavily syncopated bass notes laced with Caribbean rhythms), "barrelhouse blues" (a hard-pounding form of boogie-woogie), West Coast jazz stylings (what we call "supper club" blues), and Chicago blues.

: : : I would like to be able to say the preceding knowledge was gleaned during whiskey-fueled nights in smoky nightclubs. But, actually, I got it from "Blues for Dummies." The book doesn't have a definition for honky tonk music.

: : : And on a further music note, someone just told me that Waylon Jennings has left the building. Waylon gone. John Lee Hooker gone. Elvis. Janis. Jimi. Gone. And that damned Pat Boone lives on.

: : But B.B. King lives. Willie Nelson, too. Neil Young & Bonnie Raitt still kick ass. Younger artists like Susan Tedeschi, Jonny Lang, Shannon Curfman know their stuff. Jimi was in a class by himself, however. There's no replacing him.

: Perhaps we can trade Garth Brooks (who has absolutely no justification for his continued existence) with the Almighty for the return of John Lee Hooker or better yet, Muddy Waters... actually, the trade isn't even necessary. Let's just rid the world of anyone who thinks wearing an outsized black hat is in any way slimming.

I had the exact same thought. There is no justice in the cosmos. Just as a point of interest, am I the only one who finds is ironic that he is touting Dr.Pepper when it's clear the man should be drinking the "diet" variety?

  • Jazz spyinthesky 02/15/02