‘Hunkering down’ for hurricanes

Hunkering down, squattingI have restrained myself for approximately four years, so I’m giving myself permission to rant again about a particular pet peeve of mine.

Back in 2008 I wrote:

When reporters cover hurricanes, they talk a lot about the populace “hunkering down.” Ugh. Since Katrina blew in three years ago, it seems people only “hunker down” in preparation for a storm. They no longer “prepare,” “take cover,” “take shelter,” “shelter in place,” “cover up,” “brace,” or even “hide.” I don’t claim to be a linguist; I’m only an editor who’s been around more than most of those reporters. To me, “hunker down” has always meant “squat,” period. Both strike me as slangy, phonetically ugly words, denoting an unflattering (certainly unladylike) body position which barely relates to hiding from a storm for many hours. Nobody is going to squat for hours at a time, not even a National League catcher.

That was four years ago and nothing has changed. If anything, the situation has gotten worse. With Isaac thrashing across the Gulf now, we’re hearing a lot of hurricane reporting. And in every report I’ve heard, without exception, the locals are “hunkering down.” Nothing else; just hunkering down. It’s as though the reporters have forgotten there are any other words in the language to describe preparation for a storm. But hey, both hurricane and hunker start with H; maybe each of these reporters thinks he is being clever.

One source said the usage was popularized by Lyndon B. Johnson; another credited, or blamed, George W. Bush. Both Texans. It confirms my fear that I’ve become like my mother, hypersensitive to and critical of the use of slangy words that sound too “hick,” too “country,” too “Okie.” In short, uneducated. Or at the very least, linguistically lazy.

I can’t help it. It cuts me to the core to see such usage go mainstream in the media, to the virtual exclusion of any vocabulary that might reveal a bit of education, a bit of creativity — or even the willingness to simply open a dictionary. It’s just another example of how the media are contributing to the dumbing down of the American public rather than leading by example.



Categories: Education, hurricane, language, Media

27 replies

  1. There are so many reasons for me to hate watching the news PT, but near the top of the list is their incessant need to “amplify” everything beyond believability. Not that I’d approve of it, but I could see a salesman using such a trick when he thinks he’s pushing a weak product. Yet news reporters on television today act as if that’s exactly what they are – salesmen trying to convince us we’ll miss the end of the world or some such if we don’t hang around through their commercials.

    News worth reporting doesn’t need to be exaggerated, and I wouldn’t mind hanging around through the commercials if they weren’t treating me like one of P. T. Barnum’s suckers.

    • … and dramatized! I’m so sick of seeing reporters standing out in the wind and rain to report the story. And last night, I saw the first one of the season standing up to his waist in water. How ’bout just reporting from the hotel lobby with the storm visible through the window in the background?

  2. Funny you mention this… I had noticed, too, that they were all saying “hunkering down.”

    • Honestly, it’s like there’s no other word for it anymore. So tiresome. Especially since I cringe involuntarily every time I hear it.

      • I want to scream when I hear them saying “hunker down” We hunkered down for snowmaggaden a couple of years ago.. We hunkered down for the Derecho back in July. Now we’re hunkering down for Sandy. I daresay we’ll be hunkering down all winder for whatever comes along. SCREAMMMMMM….. I’m pretty vocal about my dislike for that term.

        • I hate it too, and I haven’t had to hunker down for anything yet. Sure, we had tornadoes back in Oklahoma, but back then nobody hunkered down. We prepared or took shelter or went to the lowest floor in the house, or something. But no hunkering!

          Stay safe.

  3. Hey, Okies “hunker down” for tornadoes… and Kansans are starting to too, according to local news sources…. :-))

    • Yep, I was an Okie for about 60 years. Sure, you hunker down in an interior room, or a bathtub, or a closet, under heavy furniture, etc. It’s likely to be uncomfortable, but you only do it for half an hour or so, at most. You don’t hunker down for several days. And if you’re out buying gas or groceries or nailing boards over your windows, you’re definitely not hunkered down.

  4. There’s been a “everyone will take me seriously if I talk like I have a grade three education” movement in American politics and news-reading for a decade or more now… I can remember that kind of crap coming out of Clinton’s piehole as well — but (from what I’ve seen on YouTube, as we don’t have Fox News here) Fox News has really pushed the “cynical folksy-stupid” boundary. I’ve always visualized “hunker down” as getting under a desk… as in “the bomb’s coming, better hunker down under that there desk.”.

    With Katrina’s anniversary coming, thought you’d appreciate this:

    • Exactly, hunkering down is the “duck and cover” we learned as kids during the Cold War (and tornado season in Okla.). It’s crouching against an interior wall or getting under sturdy furniture. The other thing that drives me nuts is the media having adopted “cop” talk from TV crime shows. We don’t “arrest” people anymore; we always “bust ’em.” We don’t tackle fleeing suspects; we “take ’em down.” Etc., ad nauseam.

      Great video, btw. Thx.

  5. I’m glad we never get hurricanes where I’m at. I’m not hankering for a hunkering. My wife and I looked at some property in Florida, but we don’t want to have to hunker there, and the cheap houses don’t have hunker bunkers like the expensive ones. I suppose we could sell the cars and get a cheap crappy one when we retire, then we’d be able to drive our clunker to the hunker bunker. She’d rather live in California though, and hunker bunkers won’t work there because of the earthquakes.

    • LOL! We had lots of hunker bunkers in Oklahoma, but they weren’t called that. “Fraidy holes” or “hidey holes” was about as colorful as we got. Usually it was just the shelter or the storm cellar. It only gets dramatic when out-of-state reporters are doing a story. You should become a reporter; your reports would be FUN!

  6. I hate that “hunker down”. I never heard it used growing up in TX by anyone.(and we were in homes were just fine without running water) It sounds like a hick joke
    I also hate that the majority of the new reporters seem to have little or no vocabulary. And blurt out garbled speech.
    And enough with the hype…..while you are raving about the hurricane force winds and waters, I can see behind you skateboarding kids and palm trees waving gently

    • Yep, “hick” is the word. Even in Oklahoma. Apparently the reporters misheard it as “hip.” But even “hip” has no place in reporting.

      Just saw another of those reporters, standing out in the wind and rain, leaning at a 45 degree angle to stay on his feet, and talking about how the winds were “shredding” everything including windows. Much too dangerous for anyone to be outside — except stupid reporters!

  7. Well, you guys have had some fun piling on here, and while I enjoyed reading it, it did pique my contrary nature. Just for giggles, tell me what word in the English language best describes “ceasing normal activities for an extended period while enduring the onset of unusual circumstances”? I submit it is not “prepare,” “take cover,” “take shelter,” “cover up,” “brace,” or even “hide.”

    Shall we summon the ghost of William Shakespeare to testify as to the propriety of coining new, catchy and even controversial words? I do not doubt that Bill is hunkering down in a bunker not far from Bradbury Landing on Mars and would be pleased at the summons! Perhaps we can call on Curiosity to de-hunker him. Or would that be, de-bunker? Or both? 😆

    • “Prepare” works for me. In any case, I’m in no particular hurry to de-hunker ol’ Bill. Or even de-bunker him. (Eww!) On the other hand, I’ve no doubt he would heartily support the evolution (not devolution) of our dynamic language (it would be interesting to see his reaction to modern American English). I’m surprised an old Navy man like you didn’t suggest “batten down the hatches.”

      (Er, correction. I once called my brother an old pilot; I was quickly put on notice that the proper designation was “former” pilot. I should have said “former” Navy man. Sorry ’bout that. 😉 )

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