I know that historically honky was a pejorative term for a white person and that it may still be so but there is a 1973 song by the British band called Vinegar Joe titled 'Proud to be (a Honky Woman)' where this word is clearly used in a desirable sense.

Is this a one-off or have the attributes of the word changed?

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    All of the online dictionaries that I've looked at list it as pejorative only
    – Chris M
    Feb 11, 2017 at 9:57
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    That information (with names of those dictionaries) needs adding to your question. Feb 11, 2017 at 10:08
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    'I'm not interested in what the dictionaries have to say but in what current usage may be' sounds very laudable but is an invitation for unauthoritative speculation and opinion. Dictionaries, while imperfect, are usually the best we've got. They do unbiased and large-scale surveys. Feb 11, 2017 at 10:38
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    ChrisM Your comment about the content of the lyrics would be better edited into the question. I didn't find any lyrics online (but I didn't look very hard, admittedly). That said, @BoldBen's hypothesis of a reclamation of honky, similar to how queer was reclaimed from being a pejorative epithet by its target community, seems reasonable.
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 11, 2017 at 11:16
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    My impression has always been that it's only mildly pejorative. And, of course, the word is used in contexts such as "honky-tonk" where it might imply "lower-class", but has no strong racial overtones.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 11, 2017 at 12:34

2 Answers 2


The most common meaning of honky is "white person". According to Communicating offense: the sordid life of language use:

…the word “honky” is a derogatory term for a Caucasian. Anyone who claims to be using it in a non-derogatory sense is also making a linguistic error.

There is, however, another definition for honky (noun):

Freq. with capital initial. An immigrant from central or eastern Europe, esp. one working as a manual labourer. Hence occas. more generally: any person employed in manual or unskilled work.

This definition is "rare" and "chiefly historic in later use". It may not seem offensive, but it was often used alongside other slurs like dago, wop, and bohunk.

Between the two definitions, OED says it's "chiefly derogatory".


My understanding is that this has nothing to do with the colour of the person's skin. It reflects the class status i.e. she is a working-class/lower class woman.

  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Oct 27, 2021 at 11:23
  • Hello, dave. On ELU, the aim is to provide answers which are supported by authoritative references. Reputable dictionaries carry out extensive research to avoid answers that are overly subjective. Idiolects may well reflect different local practices, but dictionaries' usage panels will be far better placed to speak on idiomaticity across broader English-speaking domains. Oct 27, 2021 at 11:37

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