Trending: hunker down

Lookups spiked 8,500% on March 15, 2020

Why are people looking up hunker down?

Hunker down sprang up to the top of our lookups on Sunday, March 15th, 2020, after the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases stated on national television that this was something Americans need to do more of.

Americans as a whole “should be prepared that they’re going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing” in order to stop the spread of covid-19, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
— Daniel Politi, Slate (, 15 Mar. 2020

What does hunker down mean?

The sense of hunker down presumably intended by Dr. Fauci is “to stay in a place for a period of time.” There is, however, an earlier meaning of hunker down, one which has been in use for over 200 years, which is “to lower the body to the ground by bending the legs.”

Then hunkering down upo' her knees,
Poor Hornie o' her milk to ease,
She ga'e a screigh, wi' stannin hairs—
“The Lord keep's a' frae witches' snares!
— Richard Gall, Poems and Songs, 1819

When she makes a pair of trousers—one of those garments that look as if the urchin would have to put his hand on his face to know which is the front side of him—she simply sews into the knees of them a few sharp cornered pebbles, and then when the wearer hunkers down at mumblepeg or marbles he is always careful that the weight of his body shall be on the soles of his feet instead of on the soles of his knees.
Sioux City Journal (Sioux City, IA), 28 Jan. 1877

What is notable about this use of hunker down?

In addition to the verb senses given above, hunker may function as a noun, with the meanings of “a member of the conservative section of the Democratic party in New York, 1845–1848,” and “a conservative in any respect; a person opposed to change or innovation.” When used in the first of these two senses the word is usually (although not always) capitalized; when used in the latter sense it is not.

Gov. Wright has taken lodgings temporarily with Senator Erastus Corning, a member of the old Safety Fund Regency, and still the leader of the ‘Old Hunker’ or semi-Conservative wing of the party.
New York Daily Tribune, 30 Dec. 1844

What think now the honest hardworking dupes who compose the great mass of the democracy, about the miserable idols they have been so long worshipping. Do they now believe the self-constituted leaders of the hunkers are the heartless, selfish, and unprincipled set of villainous conspirators that I have always represented them?
The Subterranean (New York, NY), 27 Sept. 1845

Trend Watch is a data-driven report on words people are looking up at much higher search rates than normal. While most trends can be traced back to the news or popular culture, our focus is on the lookup data rather than the events themselves.

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