honcho v.

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 4 08:43:28 UTC 2011

I was curious about the origin of "honcho", and we were just discussing
this on list. The first OED reference is to a 1947 book, which matches
the idea of it being brought over by pilots who were stationed in Japan
after WWII (and all through the Korean War). But it's the second
citation that's interesting.

> 1955 Amer. Speech 30 118 Honcho. 1. n. A man in charge. (This is a
> Japanese word translated roughly as 'Chief officer', brought back from
> Japan by fliers stationed there during the occupation and during the
> Korean fighting.‥) 2. v. To direct a detail or operation.

MWOLD also lists the same origin, but gives 1955 as the date of impact.
This would have been ho-hum, but for the part that follows 2.: "v."
There is no "honcho v." in the OED. But there should be. Even if there
was little evidence of it in 1955, there is plenty of evidence now--GB
find 400+ raw ghits for "honchoed" alone (well, including "honchoing"
and a few strays). Most are recent vintage and appear to be perfectly
legit. Restricting the dates, leaves 8 hits prior to 1970, with four
that appear legitimate, all in military context. (None have been
verified, but the dates are secondary, at the moment.)

> The Leatherneck: Volume 50
> 1967 - Snippet view
> ... crewing one of the Marine boats, LtCol Randolph and Maj Colleton
> also honcho-ed much of the advance planning and final execution of
> Frostbite, which appears simple enough on paper, but actually is an
> annual aspirin-consuming task. ...

> Small unit action in Vietnam, summer 1966
> Francis J. West, United States. Marine Corps - 1967 - 123 pages -
> Snippet view
> On 8 May, the lst Platoon of Delta Company was 52 men strong,
> commanded by a first lieutenant and honchoed* by a staff sergeant. For
> a month they patrolled. At division level, the operations section
> could see ...

> Army: Volume 16
> Association of the United States Army - 1966 - Snippet view
> Neither should he be running a movie projector, nor honchoing a
> bowling alley, nor selling tickets, nor checking people in and out of
> the post exchange, nor tending a counter in a QM clothing store, nor
> walking post. ...

> The Leatherneck: Volume 49
> Leatherneck Association - 1966 - Snippet view
> ... honchoed ...

Both Leathernecks may be errors--clicking the link gives no record of
"honchoed" inside the volume. West's book gives a clear snippet (looks
typewritten, which seems appropriate) with "honchoed" followed by an
asterisk, which, I presume, gives a footnote explanation. The Army also
gives nothing (which, of course, does not necessarily mean it's not
there). Still, there is one clear hit from the period.

So there appears to be no reason /not/ to have a honcho v. article. OUP
does recognize it--on-line World Dictionary lists the verb. So does AHD4
and Webster's New World College, Collins, InfoPlease and Random House
Unabridged. So it's really the OED and MWOLD that are behind.

Wiktionary, FarLex and Dictionary.com (WordNet 3.0) also list "head
honcho" as idiomatic. OED, AHD4 and MWOLD make no mention of it,
although it shows up in quotations they all use.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list