How the Honky Got Its Name | Letters | Chicago Reader

How the Honky Got Its Name 

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To the editors:

Cecil Adams' source for the origin of "honky" (from bohunk and hunky) only gave him half the story [October 21]. Another probable etymon for "honky," cited by David Dalby in his "African Element in American English" (to be found in my edited collection Rappin' and Stylin' Out: Communication in Urban Black America) is the Wolof term honq, meaning "red, pink," and "frequent use of this color to describe white men in African languages."

Also, on the extension of this ethnic label to apply to white people generally (not just specifically Bohemians and/or Hungarians--compare also "paddy" to refer to all white males, not just Irish), Cecil needs to consider less the physical attributes of white people as providing the basis for the extension--admittedly he was being facetious here--as the racial attitude of whites towards blacks, which generally has been the criterion that blacks have used historically to differentiate among whites (as reflected in the black race labels for whites ranging from the negative "ofay," "redneck," and "cracker," to the more positive "straight" and "blue-eyed soul brother").

Unlike whites, blacks tend not to differentiate whites along ethnic lines except perhaps Jews in New York and Chicago from contact with Jewish storekeepers (as Jewish communities became black ones)--Italians tend to be the white ethnic contact group for blacks in New Orleans--insofar as blacks felt that there was not much difference among the different white ethnic groups in their generally hostile racial attitudes towards them, which, as noted, was of critical concern for blacks and the first basis upon which they have characterized individuals or groups, historically.

Thomas Kochman

Professor of Communication

University of Illinois at Chicago

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