What is an “Oily Variety Bohunk”?

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A friend of mine posted the term Bohunk on her Facebook (thanks Lori) and someone had commented that they did not know what the word meant. Now although I was familiar with it from “Sixteen Candles” and “Adventures in Babysitting”, I never actually bothered to find out what the term meant. The term, is derogatory slang used to describe Eastern European Immigrants and is most probably derived from combining BOhemia and HUNgary and adding a K (that’s some lazy combining). I had always assumed this was some made up term for the movies, but according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary this word has been around for quite some time and is very insulting to some people.

So why the Oily? Insult to injury. Who knew. Besides my boy Jake?

sixteen candles jake

Yeah, you!


14 Responses to What is an “Oily Variety Bohunk”?

  1. Some 80's Girl says:

    Thank you. This actually baffled me and my friends when we rediscovered these films in college.

    But if it’s offensive to Hungarians, why is the sister’s fiance an annoying *Italian* stereotype? (And yeah, I know this is probably small potatoes in a movie that also involves a character like Long Duk Dong.)

  2. The Retroist says:

    Not sure why they had that stereotype, their last name was “Rizczech”.

  3. Anina says:

    OMG….lol. I always wondered this myself. Jake looks so good in that pic.

  4. dw says:

    The term came about during mass immigration from E. Europeans about 100 years ago. Many of their names ended with -ak, -ko, -ek etc (e.g., Pohanko) …hence the k in bohunk. I guess the oily comes from the fact that they were often more olive skinned compared with the Irish and German neighbors. This is interesting… http://bobpegritz.blogspot.com/2009/03/hunky-gene.html

  5. Kelly says:

    I’ve seen this flick enough to quote it blind, yet I never knew what an “oily bo hunk” was… and now I finally do. Thanks!

    P.S. Yes, Michael Schoeffling looks amazing in that photo. Sigh….

  6. Angel says:

    An “Oily Variety Bohunk” refers to men of eastern european decent, mainly Italians (I spent a summer or 2 in Italy). The oily is easy, referring to the massive amounts of hair gel used to get that “greaser look” (I dated an Italian from NY after college and he used more hair product than I did). Beau-Hunk is a old derivitive from the 40′s to the 70′s as in calling your guy a good looking man or your “beau” (boyfriend) was a “hunk” (hottie). The reason it was considered embarrassing for the bride to be to have her grandpa call him that is it was just a term of an older generation. The comedy in that entire sketch, if you pay attention) is the massive amounts of product in Mr. Rizchech and his son, the Italian restaurant and music…yet their last name is Rizchech, of Hungarian or Polish descent! But you see, those terms could be said without every “….ACP or any other organization” screaming discrimination and forceing everyone to be so PC that you can’t even call your 5 week old child an “infant” anymore without someone wanting to sue you!!!! Want some real comedy…watch Blazing Saddles!!!

  7. shannon says:

    Bohunk is to Bohemian as polock is to Polish; ie, sub bohunk for polock in any joke. Don’t they teach history or geography in school anymore?

  8. Claire says:

    I was also confused when they used this term, since the guy playing the sister’s fiancee was hardly cast for his Eastern European looks. But then again it was Sam’s grandpa who uttered the phrase in the first place, and that man was wildly racist anyway.

  9. Jennifer says:

    LOL! Have you all been living under rocks or something? “Bohunk” was originally a term used for Eastern/Central European immigrants to the US but it’s just a derogatory term for any white person now. I’ve heard it used by all kinds of non-whites, like cracker or honky.

  10. Johnny B. says:

    Actually the term refers to those of Eastern and Southern European descent, blue collar, not highly educated. It is disparaging I suppose though I guess it matters how the person takes. This isn’t just an opinion, look it up: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bohunk

    It has to be remembered that a little while ago the vast majority of Americans were of similar culture and background, i.e., Northern European descent and mostly Protestant, etc. Obviously British and German Americans, still the vast majority of Whites in the U.S. had been around a long time and had the same general culture and class tendencies.

    Eastern and Southern Europeans recent immigrants, and their traditions, religious practices and culture were considered “exotic” and probably still are, thus the more PC terms like “White ethnics”…

    To put it in historical perspective in the 1920′s and 30′s the “second generation Ku Klux Klan” was primarily active in the Midwest, Northeast, and West and was the largest civic organization in the U.S. as an organization focused not primarily on Blacks but the more recently arrived, supposedly non American elements from Eastern and Southern Europeans in the Northeast and Midwest and West who had different culture, values and usually lived in different neighborhoods (usually urban) and belonged to a different class. The vast majority of the Midwestern, Northeastern and Western Klan wasn’t burning homes of Slavic and Italian Americans immigrants and their children but they wanted to maintain America as a primarily so called WASP country and culture. So you can see where the characterization comes from though I supposed that the use of Bohunk isn’t thought of in such a negative way.

    It is worth mentioning that personally I hear it and read it mostly from people of that background who are better educated and assimilated who use it as a culture and class distinction now.

    Again, America had been founded by and was a largely Northern European country in culture and ethnicity, so in places like Chicago, Pittsburg, Milwaukee, etc. terms like Bohunk were a catch all for the Central European Slavic and Southern European (Southern Italian) arrivals and their partially assimilated kids who lived in factory towns, inner cities and were generally blue collar and less formally educated themselves or by background. Again, it is really synonmous with White, working class ethnic folk– so the term is commonly used as a class and ethnic indicator.

    Obviously people are less likely to call a better educated and less “ethnic acting” Eastern and Southern European Bohunks but it shouldn’t be insulting to people who feel like they are proud or happy to be from “ethnic”, working class backgrounds.

  11. Bob says:

    Bohunk or Beau hunk is entirely derived from the word Bohemian, which is another word for Czechoslovakians. Hence the Rizczechs. They are Czech. No one in this scenario is an Italian. I know this because I AM a Bohunk. Bohunks are Czechs. Trust me.

  12. Terry says:

    “The sister’s fiancee was hardly cast for his Eastern European looks.” Huh??? I beg to differ. There’s a reason why they didn’t choose a blue eyed blonde. The actor who played Rudy is John Kapelos (later the janitor in the Breakfast Club), who is of greek ancestry, which of course IS “Eastern European.” And yes, “bohunk” is a somewhat derogatory term for Bohemian/Czechs/Slavics, similar to “wop” – but used more frequently in previous generations, such as that of Sam’s grandfather character. And I don’t know why anyone would say that Rudy and his parents were portrayed as “stereotypical italians.” Again, huh?? They were stereotypical….well, “bohunks!”

  13. tvnutt says:

    I never knew what this meant. it may be a well used derogatory term but not all over the country. i assume its common in the midwest where most John Hughes flicks take place(Illinois). A large polish or czech pop. than in the northeast where i am from. just about everyone knows wop. Mick. etc. cant say the same for bohunk. I am if italian descent and Italians and greeks are southern european not eastern.

  14. Jan says:

    WOP has been the slang name designated to those of Italian descent, however, the real meaning of WOP is, “Without Official Papers,” and in fact, thousands of immigrants who landed in North America in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s were tagged as “WOP’s” as they landed without proper identification; i.e., no official papers. Not just those immigrants who happened to be coming from Italy. So it is a misnomer for the Italians although it has stuck with them all of these years.

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