‘Hunkering down’ for hurricanes
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.