Though similar in appearance to a gargoyle, a hunky punk is an architectural feature that is purely decorative, with no other functional purpose (often referred to as a grotesque). Strictly a gargoyle is not a hunky punk because it serves to drain water off the roof through its mouth. An example might be found at the corner of a church tower, along the coping ridge below any castellations. Often there are carvings on each corner, yet the roof may only drain in one direction and so there might be three hunky punks and one true gargoyle.
Hunky punks are often short squatting figures typical of those found in some Somerset churches, however hunky punks come in many shapes and sizes mostly in middle to late medieval building onwards. Some theories consider that the balance of good and evil created in church design to remind worshippers that the narrow path they tread was present in everything. This meant that for every good and benign creature such as a saint or an animal to signify purity, there had to be an opposite to bring out the fear of evil. In York Minster, for example, the carvings in the Chapter house, which are particularly obscene and which were supposedly created as caricatures of the then Dean and Chapter, were put there above the seats to create an opposite to each occupant, who one might like to assume was not in fact the foul person their carvings made them out to be.
The origin of the term hunky punk has been ascribed to the old English "hunkers" which means haunches and "punchy" which means short-legged.
The church tower at Isle Abbots has eight hunky punks depicting a person playing the bagpipes, an oriental lion dog, a goat, a dragon, a Chinese dragon, a primitive dragon, a winged lion and a lion.
- Hunky punks: a study in Somerset stonecarving, Peter Poyntz Wright, Avebury Pub. Co., 1982