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What Does the Saying "Hunky-Dory" Mean?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

The saying “hunky-dory” means that things are fine or satisfactory, though the origin of the phrase is somewhat more complicated. General usage and popularity of the phrase likely arose from the use of it in one or more songs by the Christy Minstrels, a group of performers in the mid-to-late 19th century. The origins of the term, however, are disputed and likely stem from one of two possible sources. While some attribute “hunky-dory” to an Anglicization of a Japanese term for the main street in a city, it is more likely an alteration of the term “hunk” or “hunky” from the Dutch word for goal.

Hunky-dory means that everything is fine and is generally used as a slang expression. It is typically used by someone in a way such as, “I’m just hunky-dory today,” to express a positive feeling. The origins of the phrase are somewhat complicated, but it is likely an American expression with roots in a non-English language. Regardless of its exact origin, it was in use during the mid-1800s, as it has been found in several newspaper and magazine articles from that time, as well as several pieces of music by the Christy Minstrels, who were performers during the middle and late 19th century.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

One theory regarding the origin of hunky-dory is that it stems from a Japanese phrase brought back to the US by American sailors. This theory regards the Japanese term “honcho-dori,” which refers to the main street in a city or town, and may have been based on the name of one particular street in Tokyo or Yokohama. Such streets may have been thought of as safe by American sailors who were in a new environment, creating an association between those locations and a feeling that everything is fine, or hunky-dory.

The other theory regarding the origin is that it stems from a Dutch word that means goal, which was pronounced as “hunk” for use in one or more games. This means that the “hunk” was where a player was safe or had reached the satisfactory conclusion of his or her efforts. The term “hunk” was likely expanded to “hunky” and the “dory” may have simply been added as a form of verbal play. Neither origin for hunky-dory can be proven, though some people argue that the term may have been in use prior to the presence of American sailors in Japan, which would make that source unlikely. Hunky Dory can also refer to the name of an album released by the English musician David Bowie.

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