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Honky (also spelled honkey or honkie) is a racial slur for white people, predominantly heard in the United States. The first recorded use of honky in this context possibly dates to 1946 (although the use of Honky Tonk appeared in films well before that time),[1] yet the exact origins of the word are generally unknown.

Honky may be a variant of hunky, which was a variant of Bohunk, a slur for Bohemian-Hungarian immigrants in the early 1900s.[2] Honky might also derive from the term "honk nopp" which, in the West African language Wolof means, literally, "red-eared person" or "white person". The term may have originated with Wolof-speaking slaves brought to the U.S.[3]

Another documented theory and possible explanation for the origins of the word is that it was a nickname African-American people gave white men (called "johns" or "curb crawlers") who would honk their car horns for prostitutes to come outside in urban areas such as Harlem and red-light districts in the early 1900s.[4][5][6][7]

Alternate meanings and uses

Honkey was adopted as a pejorative in 1967 by black militants within SNCC seeking a rebuttal for the term nigger. National Chairman of the SNCC, H. Rap Brown, on June 24, 1967, told an audience of blacks in Cambridge, "You should burn that school down and then go take over the honkey's school." Brown went on to say: "If America don't come round, we got to burn it down. You better get some guns, brother. The only thing the honkey respects is a gun. You give me a gun and tell me to shoot my enemy, I might shoot Ladybird."[8]

In New Zealand and Singapore, the term is used in a casual nature to refer to people originate from Hong Kong.

Honky was also used as a general term for white people, not always in a negative meaning. For example, during the 1968 trial of Black Panther Party member Huey Newton, fellow Panther Eldridge Cleaver created pins for Newton's white supporters stating "Honkies for Huey."[9]

The term "Honky" is also a familiar short form for "Honcarenko" (pronounced "Honk-a-ren-ko") which is the Slavic word for "Ukrainian".[10]

Music and entertainment

The word honky-tonk may refer to a particular type of country music or entertainment, most commonly provided at bars for its patrons.[11]

Country musicians such as David Allen Coe and other successful artists have used the words honky and honky-tonk in popular songs such as: "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" (Kitty Wells), "Honky Tonk Women" (The Rolling Stones), "Honky Cat" (Elton John), "Honky Tonk Blues" (Hank Williams), "Chasin' That Neon Rainbow" (Alan Jackson) and "Honky Tonk Man" (Johnny Horton).

Honky Tonk Man has also been used for popular culture purposes including The Honky Tonk Man (a ring name and persona for professional wrestler Roy Wayne Farris) and Honky Tonk Man (an album by pioneer Country rock musician Steve Young).

Other uses of honky in music may refer to Honky (an album by Melvins), The Chicago Honky (a style of polka music), MC Honky (DJ stage persona), Honky Château (an album by Elton John), Talkin' Honky Blues (an album by Buck 65) and Honky (an album by Keith Emerson).

Television and film

In a popular sketch on SNL, Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor used both 'nigger' (Chase) and 'honky' (Pryor) in reference to one another during a "racist word association interview".[12]

On the TV show The Jeffersons, George Jefferson regularly referred to white people as honkies - or whitey - as did Redd Foxx on Sanford and Son. This word would later be popularized in episodes of Mork & Mindy by Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters.

The black neighbour on the TV show Love Thy Neighbour, played by Rudolph Walker would often refer to his bigoted white neighbour (Jack Smethurst) as 'honkey'.

The Canadian TV Show Jamaican For Honkeys starring comedians Kevin Jackal Johnston and Trixx uses the term in the show title.

On the episode "April in Quahog" of Family Guy, Lois explains to Meg of how Peter tried to be racist to get out of jury duty with Peter saying, "Awful lot of honkys in here".

These and other shows, as explained with the controversial nature of All in the Family, had attempted to make racism/prejudice humorous and tolerable in society. However, the impact that this theme had on television created both negative and positive criticism.

There were some movies using the word Honky without any derogatory connotation. Honky Tonk is a 1929 American musical film starring Sophie Tucker. And Honky Tonk is also a 1941 black-and-white Western film starring Clark Gable and Lana Turner.

However, Honky is a 1971 movie based on an interracial relationship (starring Brenda Sykes as Sheila Smith and John Neilson as Wayne "Honky" Devine) and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song for "Something More" by Quincy Jones and Bradford Craig.

Honky Tonk is also a 1974 Western film starring Richard Crenna and Margot Kidder. Additionally, Honkytonk Man is a 1982 drama film set in the Great Depression. Clint Eastwood, who produced and directed the film, stars in the film with his son Kyle Eastwood.

See also


  1. "honky". Oxford English Dictionary (Second ed.). 1989. Retrieved 2010-10-19. "1946 Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues xii. 216 First Cat: Hey there Poppa Mezz, is you anywhere? Me: Man I'm down with it, stickin' like a honky.".
  2. the Oxford English Dictionary
  3. Sheila S. Walker (2001). African roots/American cultures. Retrieved 2009-08-05.
  4. [1]
  5. "The Racial Slur Database". Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  6. "Ethnic Slurs - World Culture at its Worst". 2007-04-26. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  7. "New Racist Slang Being Developed During This Crusade : Utah IMC". 2003-03-24. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  8. Full text of US Army Intelligence report on SNCC at "African-American Involvement in the Vietnam War" website.
  9. Monday, Mar. 02, 1970 (1970-03-02). ""Radical Saul Alinsky: Prophet of Power to the People," ''Time Magazine''".,9171,904228-4,00.html. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
  10. Humesky, Assya: Modern Ukrainian - University of Michigan / Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies - Toronto: 1999. ISBN 1-895571-29-4
  11. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the origin of the term honky tonk is unknown. The earliest source explaining the derivation of the term was an article published in 1900 by the New York Sun and widely reprinted in other newspapers, such as the Reno Evening Gazette (Nevada), 3 February 1900, pg. 2, col. 5. "Every child of the range can tell what honkatonk means and where it came from. Away, away back in the very early days, so the story goes, a party of cow punchers rode out from camp at sundown in search of recreation after a day of toil. They headed for a place of amusement, but lost the trail. From far out in the distance there finally came to their ears a 'honk-a-tonk-a-tonk-a-tonk-a,' which they mistook for the bass viol. They turned toward the sound, to find alas! a dock [sic] of wild geese. So honkatonk was named. N. Y. Sun.
  12. Paul Mooney (1975-12-13). "Racist Word Association Interview". Retrieved 2008-12-06.
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