The Grammarphobia Blog

A bunk in the night

Q: Thanks for the “sliding pond” post. I grew up in Queens where we called it a “sliding pon.” So, here’s another. I heard Bobby Flay, a chef who grew up in New York, say “I bunked into her.” This struck a chord, although I haven’t heard it since elementary school. Is this a native NY usage?

A: Yes, the use of the verb “bunk” to mean bump into or meet accidentally is a common regionalism in New York, particularly in Brooklyn. The usage is well documented in the Dictionary of American Regional English.

DARE has a half-dozen or so citations for it recorded between the 1940s and the 1980s. Here’s a 1942 quotation from The New Yorker: “What do you think of that? Bunking into you on a subway train.”

The dictionary says the usage is probably an alteration of the verb “bump.” It notes that “bunk” is also a regionalism in central Maine, where it means “to throw oneself down on a sled.”

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s first citation for the verb “bunk” used in its more common sense (to sleep in a bunk) is from Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast, an 1840 book about seafaring: “We turned in to bunk and mess with the crew forward.”

The verb comes from the noun “bunk,” meaning a box or recess used for a bed in a ship’s cabin, a railroad car, a lodging house, etc.

The OED’s first published reference for the noun is from a 1758 military journal: ‘We made up 2 straw bunks for 4 of us to lay in.”

In such tight quarters, they probably bunked into one other!

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