What Does Hanky Panky Mean?

Hanky Panky Meaning

Definition: 1) Anything related to loving, physical contact between a couple; 2) bad behavior, trickery, or anything that is a little improper, but not too serious.

Origin of Hanky Panky

This expression originated around the 1840s, and it initially had only the meaning in definition 2. Its first recorded use has no sexual connection (which the phrase sometimes connotes today). The first use was in the British humor magazine Punch, or the London Charivari in 1841.

  • Only a little hanky-panky, my lud. The people likes it; they loves to be cheated before their faces. One, two, three – presto – begone. I’ll show your ludship as pretty a trick of putting a piece of money in your eye and taking it out of your elbow, as you ever beheld.

By the 1900s, use of this expression with the meaning in definition 1 had emerged as well.

It is unclear exactly how it originated. It make have originated as a variation to the phrase hokey pokey. It also is possible that it became popular simply because it rhymed.

Examples of Hanky Panky

definition or hanky panky In this dialogue, two employees are discussing their childhoods.

Deanna: I finally moved in to my own apartment! It’s really exciting for me because I’ve never lived alone before.

Emily: Really? That’s great! Do you like it?

Deanna: I’m still a little uncomfortable since I’m not used to living alone. I’ve lived with my parents my whole life. When I was little they wouldn’t even let me stay at home alone.

Emily: Really?

Deanna: Yeah. Even when I was in high school, they’d make a friend come over to stay with me if they were going to leave.

Emily: Wow! Weren’t they worried that you and the friend would get into trouble?

Deanna: Not really. They knew I was a well-behaved child. They would always just tell me not to get into any hanky panky.

what is the meaning of hanky panky In the second example, two baseball players are discussing some antics by the opposing team.

Billy: Look at what they’re doing!

Angie: What is it?

Billy: The other team is harassing our players. They are doing all sorts of things to bother our team.

Angie: Are they doing anything that’s against the rules?

Billy: No, but it’s still wrong. I’m going to ask the referee to stop this hanky panky!

Angie: Okay, but if they aren’t breaking the rules there’s not much she can do.

More Examples

This excerpt is about a woman in hospice. The article is about the importance of laughter and humor in regards to health.

An elderly woman he was assisting told him that after she died, she wanted her husband’s bedroom repainted — with her cremated ashes mixed into the paint.

“Why would you want that?” inquired a confused Klein.

“So I can look down at my husband and see if there’s any hanky-panky going on.” –USA Today

This excerpt is about why movie producers cut a love scene from a war movie.

  • Smulders has her own theory as to why the lovin’ was cut. The two characters are soldiers and that hanky-panky doesn’t happen in the foxhole. –USA Today


The idiom hanky panky is a term that suggests tricks or bad behavior that is not actually illegal. It can also refer to the sexual relations between people. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be sex. It could be something such as kissing as well.