Monday, May 23, 2005

Wild Honyocks

When we were little and acting up, our parents would always tell us to stop acting like a bunch of wild honyocks (the 'o' sounds like the 'o' in Hon--the office furniture makers). For as long as I've been able to talk, I've been calling my brothers wild honyocks and telling the dog to stop acting like a wild honyock and wondering who left the mess in the kitchen, perhaps a band of maurading wild honyocks? I had no idea what a honyock was. I thought it was just some kind of made up word that meant "barbarian" but more on the 'acting like a nincompoop' side and less on the 'actually hurt anyone' side. But, it turns out that honyock is a disparaging term, for whom exactly is unclear, perhaps the Hungarians, perhaps just anyone of Central European extraction. OED has it linked to the word 'hunk' which was a disparaging term for east-central Europeans who came to the US to farm. It seems to have been used to mean east-central Europeans specifically only in the 1910s and then taken on the broader meaning of just 'assorted wild-behaving folks' in the late 30s. Anyway, I like the word. And so I'm torn. I have a loose policy of calling people what they want to be called (sometimes identified as "PC"-ness, but I think of it more as good manners) and not using words that people find hurtful just because I can. But I wonder when, if ever, there comes a point when words that were made up just to disparage people run out of the energy they were imbued with? Is there anyone who hears the term 'honyock' and feels it as an ethnic slur anymore? Even if not, does that mean that it's now okay to use it? Barbarian was an ethnic slur. According to OED, it traces its roots back to the Latin "balbus" or stammering, but according to the History Channel, the Greeks thought the Europeans from farther north sounded like sheep "bah, bah, bah." My point being that, though no one wants to be called a barbarian, no one thinks of it as a slur against non-Greek or -Latin speaking Europeans anymore. It's a tough place for me, who likes to believe that words always carry with them the traces of what they used to mean, and who also likes to scold the dog by calling her a honyock. So, I guess I'm going to retire the term. I'm not sure it's wrong to use it, but I can't quite justify to myself knowing what it was originally intended for and keeping it in my day-to-day vocabulary. Sadly, there will be no more calls of "wild honyocks" heard at my house.

16 Comments:

Blogger Peggasus said...

Well, this is interesting, because over the weekend the NosePicker had some friends over (boys and girls) and my husband asked me, "Do you hear what they're saying? Does it not have the same connotation to them that it does for us?"

My answer was, "Where the hell have you been?"

They were saying things were 'gay.'

I've been thinking about this for a while even before this, and when I hear this term being used to describe something 'not cool' or 'stupid' or what have you, I tell him I don't like it and I don't want him using it. (I am a big fat hypocrite, because I do admit to using it myself on occasion.)

Because just as you more eloquently put it, it still does have more negative connotations, or maybe just newer ones, and it still, to me, smacks a bit of homophobia and discrimination. I'm sure the kids don't see it like that. To them it's just a descriptive word.

Way back when when my father was growing up in a second-generation immigrant neighborhood, people lived on the 'Dago' block or the 'Bohunk' block or (in his case) the 'Polack' block, and no one seemed to find any of that offensive.

Word change and lose their meanings and evolve and it's one of the fascinating things about language.

I guess I am a Honyock and didn't even know it. Cool!

5/23/2005 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting take. I can think of words, much more divisive and offensive words, that have become innocuous through constant use. Usage seems to remove, or at least lessen the sting of most anything. I say you not only continue using the word "honycock," but you increase the frequency with which you use it. Say it all the damned time. Fly, be free. Crazy honycock.

- Jon

5/23/2005 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Honyock, Joh, honyock.

Honycock...I have no idea what that is, either, but any afternoon in which I'm extolling the virtues of the wild honycock cannot be a bad afternoon.

5/23/2005 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Sigmund Freud.

- jon

5/23/2005 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Steve Pick said...

This post brought back this nearly forgotten childhood memory. It's not about honeyock, or gay, but about a different word which was briefly very much in favor among my grade school pals.

I remember one year, for a couple of weeks, when all the kids spontaneously decided that instead of saying something was "cool," it would instead be called "cock." So, though I wasn't exactly on the cutting edge of playground slang terms, I did indeed pick it up. Unfortunately for me, my mother didn't enjoy the sound of her nine-year-old saying loudly in the grocery store, "That comic book cover is so cock!" or shouting "You're so cock!" to some friend across the street.

She didn't tell me why, but she made it very clear that I wasn't supposed to use that phrase again, and apparently, so did all the other mothers in the Ferguson and Normandy areas back in 1967, because I never heard it used that way again after another couple of weeks. I do have the vaguest memory of Ken Klotz, the foremost rebel in my class - he was the first child I ever heard use the word "damn" in a sentence - making fun of those of us who wouldn't use the word any more, but it was a dying cause even for him.

Words are funny things, huh?

5/23/2005 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I had the same experience with "goomba," which my brother uses to describe people who are being clumsily goofy but in a well-intentioned sort of way, which is just how it sounds to me. But then I discovered that it had its origins in a derogatory term for Italians. I've never heard it used that way, but now I bite my tongue every time I start to say it, for fear it will be misunderstood.

Delurking also to say I love your blog, by the way. :)

5/23/2005 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous S- said...

Also interesting how even the first instance of translation begat new words. Maybe it's in the translation from Tennesseean . . .

pegasus-
you have to admit that, in decorator-speak, "gay" loses any negativity - descriptive either way, just a matter of context, I guess.

5/23/2005 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Peg, I hear you about 'gay.' I'm shocked at how that word gets thrown around so casually. But, Steve, your story cracks me up! I'm going to try that on the Butcher when he gets home from work and see how it goes over.

Pilgrim/heretic, thanks and welcome. Goombah. Yep, that's a word you don't want to be shouting at your brother in mixed company.

Since we were allowed to use any words we found in the Bible, I used to regularly call my dad a bastard, just to tease him, not realizing what an insult that really was and finally, after I called him a bastard at the doctor's office, I was given a stern lecture from my mom about the fact that words can invoke strong responses in people. Oops.

5/23/2005 07:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fear you are setting a standard that is impossible to maintain.

Elias

5/25/2005 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

I live in northern Idaho but was raised in southeast Idaho and my mom and dad always called us honyocks. I just called our copy staff a couple of honyocks and everyone in my office of 14 people had never heard the word before - so to Google I went and found your postings and was glad that I wasn't the only one in the world that had heard that comment. Do you live anywhere in the northwest. My father's family came from Missouri, could it have come from there. Anyway, interesting postings and thanks for the affirmation.

11/28/2005 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous hunyaker said...

I have to comment on this
my mother-in-law who is of german descent from Vermont has been calling her grandkids Homyocks since they were born. She wasn't sure what it meant but we thought it might be like a mischevious child sprite or elf of some sort. Recently I came across Honyocker which Montana homesteaders called people who raised chickens "chicken chasers" although the German meaning might be "chicken f----" so I definitely
am going to leave it as a mischevious child

5/13/2006 05:00:00 PM  
Anonymous John said...

My boss said his grandfather used the term "honyock" and that reminded me that my grandparents (who were from Nebraska and Idaho) also used to call me and my friends "honyocks." (They also called us rug rats and curtain crawlers.) We were wondering about the origins and I guessed it was German because my grandmother, who was Czech, was raised speaking German. My boss said his grandfather was Swedish, but he knew someone else of Dutch descent who also used the term.

Anyway, the memory brought a smile to my face as I remembered my grandparents, and I couldn't wait to call my four kids "honyocks." Then to find out it had roots as a derogatory term was a disappointing surprise.

But, I think it's safe to use now, especially around people younger than my grandparents (they would've been over 100 years old today).

7/13/2006 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Chixulub said...

Language evolves. My Dad called me and my brother honyocks when we were growing up, as in 'I love you two honyocks' at bedtime.

So I started calling my kids that. 'I love you little honyock,' I say, and my daughter's reply is 'I love you big honyock.'

I don't know how it came into the family, I don't think we have any Central European roots, which would be the logical explanation. In any case, whatever hatred it might have once contained has evaporated.

My kids are honyocks because I'm a honyock. Come from a long line of honyocks.

8/24/2006 07:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend (age 40) of mine and I (age 49) were at the football field last night and he yelled to his two twins.."hey you two honyockers". I told him that is what my mom (Norwegian, S.E. Minnesota discent) used to call me when I was growing up in SE S.Dak. My father (German, S.E. Minn. discent) didn't use it as freely as my mom. My friend grew up in NW Iowa and his family is of Dutch descent.


I never thought of it as anything but another affectionate phrase like "you goofball".

8/26/2006 07:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this fascinating. My dad always referred to me and my sister as honyocks. We grew up in Wyoming. I now live in Alabama and have found that nobody recognizes this term. Unfortunate that it has a tainted origin, but I will still use it. We have become too PC these days and need to let go and let words be words.

11/20/2006 08:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Pam said...

My mother called any wild-behaving children 'honyocks'. My sister and I were talking on the phone this evening when I described students waiting to be released for the Christmas holidays as honyocks (I'm a high school teacher). We started laughing, remembering our loud, boisterous, profane mother who never had an unexpressed thought-if she thought you were behaving like a honyock, she called you a honyock. There are all kinds of words and phrases that Mother used that we don't hear anymore. We started wondering what a honyock was, googled it, and came to this site which my sister read to me over the phone. We were laughing so hard I almost didn't make it to the bathroom in time. Our dad is Danish, and our mother's brothers used to call him 'bohemian', 'square head', 'swede', etc. always affectionately, so honyock certainly doesn't seem too awful to me.

12/14/2006 01:01:00 AM  

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