What Does Hunker Down Mean?

Hunker Down Meaning

Definition: To lower oneself into a squatting position; to hide, remain, or stay low; to get ready to do hard work; to stay firm to one’s principles.

Origin of Hunker Down

The word hunker is attested from the year 1720 and is of Scottish origin. Where it came from is unclear, although some sources speculate that it might come from a Norse word meaning to crouch down.

Both hunker and hunker down can mean to assume a position on one’s haunches.

Hunker down also came to mean prepare oneself for hard work and originated around the 1970s. It is possible that this is because, oftentimes, hard, manual labor involves a squatting or bent over position.

Around the same time it also came to mean to remain firm regarding one’s beliefs. It is possible this relates to the fact that someone with their body weight low to the ground is physically difficult to move.

Examples of Hunker Down

hunkered down meaningIn the dialogue below, two friends are hiking a mountain.  They use the expression in the sense of hide out or remain in one place.

Tina: Did you hear that? It sounds like thunder.

Keanu: Hmmm. No, but I see rain clouds fast approaching from behind us. We’d better find some shelter soon unless we want to get caught in the middle of a storm and possibly get hit by lightning.

Tina: There’s a cave over there. We can hunker down inside until the storm passes.

hunkering down definitionIn this example, one friend is discussing an argument he is having with his fiancée.

Jonah: I need your advice. I don’t want my fiancée to invite her ex-boyfriend to our wedding.

Tatiana: That seems reasonable.

Jonah: That’s what I thought, but she argues that I should be happy to invite any of her friends, and she still considers him to be a friend. I guess I should compromise, since marriage is all about compromise.

Tatiana: I disagree. I think you should hunker down and remain firm on your decision. Respecting each other’s feelings is just as important as compromise in a marriage.

More Examples

This excerpt is about an animal hurt by a hurricane.

  • An injured hawk that decided to hunker down with a Houston taxi driver prior to Hurricane Harvey has been released back into the wild. –Houston Chronicle

The second example is about residents who will try to brave a hurricane.

  • So on Thursday morning, Dacosta found himself, with his family, loading sandbags into the back of his pickup. They are among a band of residents — call them stubborn, or maybe desperate — who are going to hunker down in the path of an extremely dangerous storm and hope for the best. –LA Times


The idiom hunker down can have several different definitions including assume a hunched over position, to be resolute on a decision or belief, to hide out or remain in a place, or to prepare for a difficult task.