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Article merged: See old talk-page here


Is there any relation to the word Honkey? Mikkalai 02:52, 30 Oct 2004 (UTC)


How can you even pretend to have a good article on honky tonk without even delving into the etymology of the word? Explaining that it's a bar that plays such and such music doesnt really tell much about why they were called that to begin with.

I don't know where alleged pretending is going on. Wikipedia is an ongoing project under construction. If you think an article can be improved, you are encouraged to improve it. Cheers, -- Infrogmation 19:41, 23 Nov 2004 (UTC)

The BBC website states (22/08/2010)that "The word honky, meaning a 'white man', comes from a West African language called Wolof. In Wolof, honq means 'bright pink'." This is not mentioned in this article and adds to the comments in this discussion that this article may not be accurate. - I love the fact that while the people of my colour were calling people "black" they were calling us bright pink. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:40, 22 August 2010 (UTC)

Well, you know, much as I repect the BBC, my research into swing has shown that they get stuff wrong. The word honky is not in this Wollof dictionary. And really, are we supposed to think that Wollof speakers were referring to places that white people went to? References, we need references!And meanwhile, geese honk, in English! Steve Pastor (talk) 17:31, 23 August 2010 (UTC)

The word 'honky' may not be in the Wollof dictionary cited above, the word 'red' is given as xonxa. The dictionary describes the letter 'x' as being pronounced somewhere between an 'h' and a 'k'. If the first x comes out more like an h and the sexond x sounds more like a k, then xonxa would be something like honka - which is really close, so although not "proof" - it is certainly believable. And I do not think that anyone seriously believes that Texas honky tonks were named by Wollof speakers. To me, it seems likely that 'honky' for white people and 'honky tonk' for lound bars have separate origins and are unrelated. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Svaihingen (talkcontribs) 20:44, 22 February 2013 (UTC)

Up until today, I had been under the impression the term "honky-tonk" came from "honk-a-tonk" or similar, which was a reference to the sound of the poorly tuned pianos in those establishments (and that the musical style evolved as a way to work around bad keys on said pianos). Never before have I heard that the term originated from the derogatory term for whites, or any of the other ideas put forth here. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:31, 13 July 2011 (UTC)

The Daily Ardmorite, 1894[edit]

Perhaps to understand the etymology.

  • "The ARDMORITE has a better opinion of the morals of the people of Ardmore than to charge that they sanction or encourage the performance to be offered tonight by a crowd of brazen celebrities know as the Fanny Hill Burlesque Comedy Company. ..." The Daily Ardmorite (Oklahoma), February 26, 1894, page 2, column 1. (Oklahoma Historical Society, Microfilm #110)
  • "The honk-a-tonk last night was well attended by ball heads, bachelors and leading citizens. Most of them are inclined to kick themselves this morning for being sold." The Daily Ardmorite (Oklahoma), February 27, 1894, page 1, column 4. (Oklahoma Historical Society, Microfilm #110)
  • "We understand that one of the male adjuncts to the honk-a-tonk took occasion last night to condemn the action of the ARDMORITE in showing up the very shady character of his more doubtful painted, padded and brazen harlots who had the unmitigated effrontery to pass as examples of legitimate burlesque comedy. ..." The Daily Ardmorite (Oklahoma), February 27, 1894, page 2, column 1. (Oklahoma Historical Society, Microfilm #110)

A few more[edit]

  • "The series of scrub foot ball games have begun at Harvard. Like the base ball games played in the spring, they afford men of ordinary playing ability, who would like to get into the game, a chance to do so, and, incidentally, offer a great deal of amusement and interest to the student body. It appears that in selecting names for the various organizations the undergraduats have outdone themselves in the line of facetiousness. A game between the Mudloppers and Honkatonks or the Honkatonks and the Wallowers has in it the true Irish ring of a Donnybrook fair." -The Brooklin Daily Eagle, Friday, October 25, 1901, column 5, page 13.
  • "There is scarcely an old-time gambler in the United States who does not remember the Reeves gambling house and 'honkytonk' in Guthrie. ...a stage and rows of curtained boxes, was built as an addition for the purposes of a free-and-easy varity show." -The Daily Oklahoman, Sunday, September 5, 1915, column 1, page 1.
Interesting, thanks for sharing these. -- Infrogmation 11:36, 6 January 2006 (UTC)

Jan 06 edits[edit]

I reverted a recent anon edit which seemed to have some good material (I intend to look it over again and possibly merge some of it back), mostly because it changed the definition from a type of bar to a "disreputable musical variety show". I think hony tonks (and variations "honka tonks" and "tonks") for saloons with music is quite well doccumented for late 19th/early 20th century. Is the arguement that the definition as a variety show predates the definition as an establishment? Is there a published source stating this? Other opinions? -- Infrogmation 11:36, 6 January 2006 (UTC)

I'm saying exactly that. A bar or saloon without a song and dance show was just another bar or saloon. If you have any sources contemporary to the times that shows otherwise, I would like to see them. I have several more articles just like those I've posted. Here is another one:
"... Furthermore his [the city building inspector] optics seem ailing. If he will take the time from his arduous duties elsewhere and stroll westward on California avenue from Robinson he will find that a fire trap has been constructed at a variety theater known as Schlitz Garden. ...Why the inspector and council should close their eyes for the benefit of a ' honkatonk' show is, however, difficult to understand." —The Daily Oklahoman, Saturday, November 4, 1904, column 3, page 2.
Also, There is no evidence supporting the theory that "the origin of the phrase, "Tonks" were originally specifically African American institutions; similar establishments that catered to Whites acquired the name Honky Tonk, from the slang honky, referring to a white persons." This statement belongs on the talk page, at the most, until verified. This is supposed to be an encyclopedia. The more lurid descriptions such as "prostitutes and their customers would have sex standing up clothed on the dance floor" need to be direct quotes from another source and even then may not belong here. IMHO. Also, I would like to know if anyone had ever used the term honky tonk before 1881. I haven't found it used and I have looked. If not, that would tend to strengthen the Tonk piano theory.
Very interesting. Do you have an aproximate time period for when the expression seems to have shifted from describing a type of show to describing a type of saloon with music? Note the Wikipedia:No original research policy, but with such sources as you site you may have Wikipedia:Verifiability on your side. Suggestions on wording for sumarizing this in the article? Moving some of the more dubious material to talk seems a reasonable suggestion, but note that on Wikipedia its often useful to include mention of various urban legends and dubious origin stories if only to debunk them, as if they're simply absent from the article some people are likely to add 'em back. Also, I encourage you to choose a user name and log in. Cheers, -- Infrogmation 20:56, 6 January 2006 (UTC)

No, I don't have a particular time period but it seems to have happened before the 1930s (or even 1920s)—certainly pre-WWII. A clarification. I meant to say that he term honky tonk referred to the type of variety show occurring in the establishment before it became a term for the establishment itself. I understand the original research policy, but I have never found a scholarly article about honky tonks which used any contemporary sources to support its conclusions. I found another article among my notes that may also be of interest:
"There is no doubt that a high class vaudeville would be patronized here. What is hurting vaudeville now is the honky-tonk attractions." [quoting S.S. Baldwin, president of the Bijou Theater syndicate who was proposing building a vaudeville theater] —The Daily Oklahoman, Thursday, December 14, 1905, column 4, page 5.
Also, my personal opinion, for what that's worth, is that the the term honkey referring to whites came from the term honky tonk, not vice versa, since it was not used in that way much, if at all, before the 1960s (at least I haven't found it).

Anyone else have suggestions on the best way to word this? Also, anyone know why a "William" Tonk company would use decals of "Ernest" Tonk? -- Infrogmation 02:46, 11 January 2006 (UTC)

Another story[edit]

This from an American Dialect Society mailing list is said to be from the Reno (Nevada) Evening Gazette, 3 February 1900, pg. 2, col. 5, and said to originate with the New York Sun. The article first says that honkatonks are found in Oklahoma and parts of Texas, then describes the show and the kinds of variety acts performed, and finishes with this:

"Every child of the range can tell what honkatonk means and where it came from. Away, away back in the very early days, so the story goes, a party of cow punchers rode out from camp at sundown in search of recreation after a day of toil. They headed for a place of amusement, but lost the trail. From far out in the distance there finally came to their ears a 'honk-a-tonk-a-tonk-a-tonk-a,' which they mistook for the bass viol. They turned toward the sound, to find alas! a dock of wild geese. So honkatonk was named--N. Y. Sun".

I don't have access to the original newspapers so cannot swear to the facts.

  • Addemdum: Actually the article says "two territories" instead of Oklahoma. Oklahoma and Indian Territories were called the "Twin Territories" in 1900.

More speculation[edit]

I think it's pretty clear that honkytonks, the bars and the music, did not have their origins in the South, but the Southwest (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico). I found several references to honkytonks as a common occurrence in the oil boom towns of Oklahoma and Texas during the 1910s and 20s. I also found a reference in New York from 1929 which still referred to them as variety shows. I also found a reference in a 1926 Oklahoma newspaper about dancehalls in "Booger Town" (Borger, Texas; an oil boom town) speaking of honkytonk music—"Waltzes and new numbers were interspersed with the old honkytonk favorites". I won't speculate what "honkytonk favorites" were, but the "new numbers" referred to jazz; in this case Memphis Blues played by a band named the California Red Jackets. Modern honkytonk music does not seem to have arrived in the South until Western swing bands (such as Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys) began playing on the Grand Ol' Opry in the 30s or 40s.

Now there may be some speculation about where Bobs Wills played - only once on the Opry and that was 1945 or so. His music was not considered to be country back then. It was jazz and it was swing. Let me know if those books say otherwise. Steve Pastor 15:42, 1 February 2007 (UTC)


  • Boyd, Jean Ann. Jazz of the Southwest: An Oral History of Western Swing. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998. ISBN 0585184089
  • Kienzle, Rich. Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky Tonk, Western Swing, and Country Jazz. New York: Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0415941024
  • Russell, Ross. Jazz style in Kansas City and the Southwest. Berkley: University of California Press, 1971. ISBN 0520018532

Elided content[edit]

Removed per above discussion:

According to one theory of the origin of the phrase, "Tonks" were originally specifically African American institutions; similar establishments that catered to Whites acquired the name Honky Tonk, from the slang honky, referring to a white person. As there are multiple examples of oral history and writings by African Americans born in the 19th century referring to African American establishments as "honkey tonks" or "honk-a-tonks", some historic linguists dispute this suggested derivation.


It states uncategorically that the term came from the sound of geese which led an unsuspecting group of cowboys to the flock instead of to the variety show they expected.

Uncategorically? Did the writer mean categorically? 04:43, 29 April 2007 (UTC)

Split article ?[edit]

This article really deserves a split into honky tonk (for the type of saloon) and honky tonk music. The two topics are certainly related but are largely independent categorically as with country and country music. — AjaxSmack 01:57, 13 October 2007 (UTC)

Merger proposal[edit]

This should be merged with Honky tonk music. I see from that these were originally split from the same article, & I think this was a mistake. I searched for "honky tonk", wanted to read about the music, as i am sure lots of country fans do, and instead find an article which barely mentions it. The "honky tonk" article does not offer any link to the "honky tonk music" section, and I only discovered that article by chance when searching for something else.

These two articles cover a lot of the same ground & over time this is likely to increase if they remain separate, as editors will be unaware of the two articles & so the same kind of content will be added separately to both. Other people, like me, will be disappointed to find nothing about the honky tonk sound on the "honky tonk" article, & so will add content about it, without realising there is a separate article about it.

Having two articles also misses the point that the two subjects (honky tonk music & honky tonk bars) are firmly intertwined. The honky tonk sound developed because musicians began incorporating electric instruments in order to be heard in the crowded bars in which they performed. Weasel Fetlocks (talk) 15:09, 23 July 2008 (UTC)

I agree. And, as there has been no disagreement, and this merge proposal was made 6+ months ago, the merge should proceed. ---RepublicanJacobiteThe'FortyFive' 03:00, 7 December 2008 (UTC)
Done. ---RepublicanJacobiteThe'FortyFive' 03:49, 7 December 2008 (UTC)

Requested move[edit]

The following discussion is an archived discussion of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on the talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

The result of the move request was: moved Kotniski (talk) 12:43, 3 September 2010 (UTC)

Honky tonkHonky-tonk — Reason: Standard spelling. See NOAD at p. 812. Wahrmund (talk) 19:08, 11 August 2010 (UTC)

I quickly checked two sources: Workin' Man Blues, a book about counrty music in California, and record lables from the 50s. The book uses the hypenated spelling. The record labels didn't. Steve Pastor (talk) 00:14, 12 August 2010 (UTC)

Dwight Yoakam has two songs listed at with the non hyphenated spelling. So, here we have the common usage vs. what the "authorities" say is correct. I vote for common usage. Will check in again if new evidence comes to light. Steve Pastor (talk) 00:18, 12 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Support as the common spelling. Most searches do not distinguish between hyphenated and non so I simply counted the first 200 results from a Google book search of "honky tonk bar". The results are 28 unhyphenated to 172 hyphenated. Also I find One Look results for honky tonk quite convincing.--Fuhghettaboutit (talk) 06:36, 22 August 2010 (UTC)
  • Support per above. Propaniac (talk) 15:48, 2 September 2010 (UTC)
The above discussion is preserved as an archive of a requested move. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made in a new section on this talk page. No further edits should be made to this section.

Cultural references/Trivia section[edit]

In reference to recent edit summaries and reverts on the list of popular references, I have read the WP:IPC which states that: "passing mentions in books, television or film dialogue, or song lyrics should be included only when that mention's significance is itself demonstrated with secondary sources." The reference to use in a manga pretty clearly falls within this category. I look forward to the addition of citations of reliable sources that point to its significance. I am going to search for third party sources that point to notability for the subject for the songs.--SabreBD (talk) 20:47, 28 August 2011 (UTC)

Please note that the reference needs to establish the mentions significance, not the fact of that there is a mention. I am still looking for similar references to the musical mentions.--SabreBD (talk) 20:29, 29 August 2011 (UTC)

You do not understand the import of the Popular Culture sections. The significance of a reference is that it is a reference. These references collectively establish the extent and penetration of the article's topic within popular culture. You ask for a reference's "significance." Significance for whom? There are millions of people for whom honky-tonks have absolutely no significance. Ought we therefore to delete this article? Wahrmund (talk) 20:50, 29 August 2011 (UTC)

I do understand it, but I am following the guidelines to which you pointed. The fact that there is a mention is not in itself notable. The guideline seem pretty clear that something that indicates its relevance to the subject is needed. Opinions may vary on exactly how that is expressed, but I am looking for something that indicates why, for example, the Rolling Stones chose it as part of their song. I suggest what you need for the manga reference is something that indicates how the choice of that name related to the topic: perhaps in the form similar to "honky tonk was chosen as the name of the bar after the American roadside bar of that name..." and then perhaps giving some reason.--SabreBD (talk) 21:10, 29 August 2011 (UTC)
Indeed. Wikipedia list articles should not include every trivial mention of the article's subject; items included should be limited to those that have received significant third-party coverage, as demonstrated via appropriate sourcing. Doniago (talk) 22:35, 29 August 2011 (UTC)

Music section[edit]

While I was engaged in (largely fruitless) search for the citations for the trivia section I came across a large number of sources on honky tonk music in general. I plan to get around to cleaning up and expanding this section at some point in the future. However, I have begun to wonder whether we should take this off into a separate article (i.e. Honky Tonk (music)). Any thoughts welcome.--SabreBD (talk) 20:32, 13 September 2011 (UTC)

Unsourced material[edit]

Below information was tagged for needing sources long-term. Feel free to reinsert the below material with appropriate references. DonIago (talk) 13:39, 8 September 2014 (UTC)