Mighty Red Pen

Hunker down vs. bunker down


What do Iris Murdoch and Stephenie Meyer have in common? They’ve both been on MRP’s reading shelf in 2009. No kidding.

After making my way through two of Murdoch’s early works, which are swimming in giddy literariness and indulgently beautiful language, I find myself knee-deep in the awesome badness of the Twilight saga. Now, I know that being a lady of a, er, certain age, MRP is not really the target demographic for these books, so I’m enjoying them for what they are to me: little slices of pop culture.

But there’s something in them for everyone, it seems, and for us, dear friends, that something lies on page 355 of New Moon:

The animals must be bunkering down. This term bunkering down immediately caught my attention, I wanted to grab my red pen and edit it to read hunkering down. So I had to investigate.

Hunker down gets a nice exposition by our friends at World Wide Words, where they explain:

The Oxford English Dictionary has a fine description of how to hunker: “squat, with the haunches, knees, and ankles acutely bent, so as to bring the hams near the heels, and throw the whole weight upon the fore part of the feet”. The advantage of this position is that you’re not only crouched close to the ground, so presenting a small target for whatever the universe chooses to throw at you, but you’re also ready to move at a moment’s notice.

Hunker down has also taken on the sense of to hide, hide out, or take shelter, whatever position you choose to do it in. This was a south-western US dialect form that was popularised by President Johnson in the mid 1960s. Despite its Scots ancestry, hunker is rare in standard British English.

Okay, it’s of course a totally imprecise method, but I did get some information by Googling bunker down, which gets over a million hits (although some of those lead you to hunker down), but I couldn’t find much confirmation from that that it’s a term with it’s its own definition beyond “something people say mistakenly when they mean hunker down.” My favorite was probably from Urban Dictionary (always good for a laugh), which explained:

A term morons use, particularly when bad weather is afoot, to which they confuse the meaning of “hunker” with. Bunker is a noun, yet hunker is a verb, thus while the words sound similar, when thought of in their linguistic context, one is blatantly wrong.

Bunker means (n): “1 : a bin or compartment for storage; especially : one on shipboard for the ship’s fuel 2 a : a protective embankment or dugout; especially : a fortified chamber mostly below ground often built of reinforced concrete and provided with embrasures b : a sand trap or embankment constituting a hazard on a golf course.” or (v): intransitive verb : to fill a ship’s bunker with coal or oil; transitive verb 1 : to place or store in a bunker 2 : to hit (a golf ball or shot) into a bunker.”

Merriam-Webster doesn’t much like bunker down, and neither does AskOxford, but they both like hunker down. Is it lights out for the Twilight proofreader, or does anyone out there have anything to show that bunker down is more than just a term that folks use when they really mean hunker down? I’d be interested to hear it.