[Ads-l] Sylvia Plath's "hunky"

Yagoda, Ben byagoda at UDEL.EDU
Thu Oct 15 12:31:11 UTC 2015

In yesterday’s New York Times, Dwight Garner’s review of a new biography of Ted Hughes notes:

"When Sylvia Plath, his future wife, met [Hughes] at a party in 1956, she wrote in her diary about 'that big, dark, hunky boy, the only one there huge enough for me.’”

When I read that, I was surprised that “hunky" (referring to a sexually attractive male) was in circulation that early. And, indeed, the OED’s first citation for the word is from a 1978 Washington Post article: "They seem to be anticipating national palpitations when Tomlin sighs, ‘Oh, Strip’ or ‘Mmmmmmmm’ at Travolta's hunky nearness.” The noun form, “hunk,” had arrived earlier, the OED citing a 1966 survey of slang at the University of South Dakota.

But the OED also has another, older meaning for “hunky,” with which I wasn’t familiar: “thick-set, solidly built.” It quotes a 1959 article from The Listener: “a vast, hunky, surly man.”

Plath clearly had this meaning in mind, but isn’t it pretty to think that she anticipated the newer one?

Ben Y.

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

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