Hunky dory: etymology + David Bowie + song (+ answers)

Hunky-dory, what a great adjective, don’t you think so? If you have read our mini lesson about verb patterns, you would have found this word in it. If you haven’t had time yet, but you are a melomaniac, it might also ring a bell. Hunky-dory is the fourth album of English musician David Bowie.

One of our favourite ones, this album includes songs such as Changes, Oh you pretty things, Life on Mars and some others dedicated to Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan or Lou Reed. If you haven’t listened to it, what are you waiting for? Here you have a fuddy-duddy recommendation ;).

The word hunky-dory originated in the United States as a slang word meaning “satisfactory” or “fine”. The origins of this term remain mysterious. However we are aware of three existing etymology theories. Let’s delve into it.

'Hunky' derives from the Dutch “ honk” meaning “home” or “ safe” . Honk is a variant for the game of tag (pilla-pilla in Spanish). As you all know the Dutch settled in New York in the 17th century and that might be why we find Dutch words entering the English dictionary. What isn't so clear is the origin of 'dory'. It seems the word could be traced back to Japan.

In Japanese “honcho-dori” means main street”, and many cities have one. Supposedly, back in the 1860’s, following the opening up of Japanese ports, American sailors would take shore leave in the city of Yokohama. In Yokohama, the “main street”, which runs from the city centre to the port area, is full of nightlife bars and brothels, something similar to a red-district. One of the theories suggests that hunky-dory is US sailors‘ slang to refer to the “easy streets” of Yokohama. Perhaps they felt hunky-dory after their visit?

Another version says that having enjoyed a night in town, a sailor would be “safe” if he could find Honcho-Dori, the main street, as he could find his way back to the ship.

Our favourite theory says hunky-dory is simply an American mispronunciation of the Japanese honcho-dory, 本町通 .

Hunky-dory’s Spanish equivalents could be something along the lines of “sobre ruedas” o “a pedir de boca”, the latter was chosen as the translation of Bowie’s album in Spain.

Whatever the word’s origin, the album really is great. This is why we're inviting you to listen to it and discover its sound, lyrics and magic.

Listening to songs is such a great method to implement when learning a new language, your music knowledge grows and so does your vocabulary! We have picked one of Hunky-dory’s songs for you to practise your English today. “Changes” is an anthem of youthful freedom, a song about defying your critics and stepping out on your own.

Listen to the song and try to fill the gaps in the blue text. Check below for the answers in red.

Oh, yeah


Still don't know what I was __________(1)for

And my time was runnin' wild

A million dead end ________(2)and

Every time I thought I'd got it made

It seemed the taste was not so sweet

So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a ______(3)

How the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test


Turn and face the strange


Don't want to be a _________(4) man


Turn and face the strange


There's gonna have to be a _________(5)man

Time may change me

But I can't trace time

Mmm, yeah

I watch the ripples change their size

But never leave the _______(6)

Of warm impermanence

And so the days float ________(7)my eyes

But still the days seem the same

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their ________(8)

Are immune to your consultations

They're quite __________(9) of what they're goin' through


Turn and face the strange


Don't tell them to grow up and out of it


Turn and face the strange


Where's your shame?

You've left us up to our necks in it

Time may change me

But you can't trace time

Strange fascinations _________(10)me

Ah, changes are taking

The pace I'm goin' through


Turn and face the strange


Ooh, look out, you rock 'n' rollers


Turn and face the strange


Pretty soon now you're gonna get older

Time may change me

But I can't trace time

I said that time may change me

But I can't trace time


Melomaniac - melómano, amante de la música

Ring a bell - sonarte

Fuddy-duddy - viejuno/a

Delve into - indagar

Trace back - rastrear el origen de

Shore leave - permiso para bajar a tierra

Song answers:

(1-waiting, 2-streets, 3-glimpse, 4-richer, 5-different, 6-stream, 7-through, 8-worlds, 9-aware, 10-fascinate).

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