I use the phrase Hunky Dory on a regular basis. Recently someone asked me where the phrase came from. I had to look it up. Unfortunately, the information I found was mostly obviously wrong.
After digging quite a bit, eliminating opinions from fact, I think I’ve woven together the bizarre path of how we came to be using the phrase.
Blame the Dutch
The root of hunky, is taken from a Dutch word, hunk, which means safe, or a safe place. The same root is responsible for the phrase hunker down. In the late 1700’s through the early 1800’s this word was popular among the gangs of New York.
Then, in the early 1800’s, rhyming slang became popular. Take a word, like hunky and add a word after it that rimes but replace the first letter with the letter d. That gives us hunky dunky. Yes, hunky dunky. I’ll explain later. This also gives us phrases like okey dokey.
Somewhere around the middle of the 1800’s someone wrote a rope-skipping rime that used the phrase, “Hunky Dunky Dory Do.” The “Dory Do” part is just pleasant nonsense used to create a rime with the next line.
From the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s many writers made reference to the rope-skipping rime. Some of them shortened the phrase to “Hunky Dory,” often assigning it the same meaning as “Hunky Dunky.” For some reason this caught on. There is no definite, or agreed-upon chronology for these writers and their stories.
The roaring 20’s saw a surge in slang usage and the phase “Hunky Dory” took it’s place in popular culture.
And The Rest
The phrase persists to this day. It comes and goes from place to place, in and out of fashion.
It’s funny that when people today use the phrase “Hunky Dunky” they are often accused of getting it wrong, when in reality, “Hunky Dory,” is getting it wrong.