"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Time to hunker down

"Hunkered down," 5 x 7 holiday greeting card

It's a hunkering down holiday season this year, and not just with cold weather coming. 

I recently told some friends we were "hunkering down"  to avoid any exposure in this exploding pandemic crisis,  about the time I was painting a New Mexico snow scene with an adobe, thinking of people "hunkering down" against the cold.

I think it's more descriptive than the current "shelter in place" phrase that's been used this year, and I had to look the word up. Here's what I found.

“Hunker” (which is  rarely heard without “down”)  emerged in the Scots language in a 1720 poem.  It  referred to squatting down on the balls of one’s feet, keeping low to the ground but still ready to move if necessary. The word probably came from a Germanic root with descendants in other languages, all having to do with crouching, such as  Dutch huiken, Old Norse húka and  German hocke.

The Dictionary of the Scots Language  gave examples going back to 1720, when the word appeared in a line of poetry: “And hunk’ring down upon the cald Grass.” In Scots, it could also describe a low squatting position as “sitting on one’s hunkers” or “sitting hunker-tottie.” The dictionary definition: " v1intr. To squat with thighs, knees and ankles acutely bent; to seat oneself in a crouching position or on one's haunches. Freq. with doun. :

When “hunker down” entered American English, it took on metaphorical meanings. A list of regionalisms from southeast Missouri published in 1903 defined the phrase as “to get down to one’s work." And it's been revived in media coverage of recent hurricanes of people who ride out hurricanes, rather than evacuate.

Right now, we're just "hunkering down" trying to survive this pandemic. 

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