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Origin of punker


  1. Slang.
    1. something or someone worthless or unimportant.
    2. a young ruffian; hoodlum.
    3. an inexperienced youth.
    4. a young male partner of a homosexual.
    5. an apprentice, especially in the building trades.
    6. Prison Slang.a boy.
  2. punk rock.
  3. a style or movement characterized by the adoption of aggressively unconventional and often bizarre or shocking clothing, hairstyles, makeup, etc., and the defiance of social norms of behavior, usually associated with punk rock musicians and fans.
  4. a punker.
  5. Archaic. a prostitute.
  1. Informal. poor in quality or condition.
  2. of, relating to, or characteristic of punk rock: a punk band.
  3. pertaining to, characteristic of, or adopting punk styles: punk youths; punk hairstyles in various colors.

Origin of punk

First recorded in 1590–1600; of obscure origin; the sense development is apparently “prostitute” > “catamite” > “hoodlum”; the adj. “poor in quality” (1896) is unclearly derived and perhaps a distinct word
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for punker


    1. a youth movement of the late 1970s, characterized by anti-Establishment slogans and outrageous clothes and hairstyles
    2. an adherent of punk
    3. short for punk rock
    4. (as modifier)a punk record
  1. an inferior, rotten, or worthless person or thing
  2. worthless articles collectively
  3. a petty criminal or hoodlum
  4. obsolete a young male homosexual; catamite
  5. obsolete a prostitute
  1. inferior, rotten, or worthless
Derived Formspunkish, adjective

Word Origin for punk

C16: via Polari from Spanish pu (n) ta prostitute, pu (n) to male prostitute


  1. dried decayed wood that smoulders when ignited: used as tinder
  2. any of various other substances that smoulder when ignited, esp one used to light fireworks

Word Origin for punk

C18: of uncertain origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for punker



"inferior, bad," 1896, also as a noun, "something worthless," earlier "rotten wood used as tinder" (1680s), "A word in common use in New England, as well as in the other Northern States and Canada" [Bartlett]; perhaps from Delaware (Algonquian) ponk, literally "dust, powder, ashes;" but Gaelic spong "tinder" also has been suggested (cf. spunk "touchwood, tinder," 1580s).



"worthless person" (especially a young hoodlum), 1917, probably from punk kid "criminal's apprentice," underworld slang first attested 1904 (with overtones of "catamite"). Ultimately from punk (n.1) or else from punk "prostitute, harlot, strumpet," first recorded 1590s, of unknown origin.

For sense shift from "harlot" to "homosexual," cf. gay. By 1923 used generally for "young boy, inexperienced person" (originally in show business, e.g. punk day, circus slang from 1930, "day when children are admitted free"). The verb meaning "to back out of" is from 1920.

The "young criminal" sense is no doubt the inspiration in punk rock first attested 1971 (in a Dave Marsh article in "Creem," referring to Rudi "Question Mark" Martinez); popularized 1976.

If you looked different, people tried to intimidate you all the time. It was the same kind of crap you had to put up with as a hippie, when people started growing long hair. Only now it was the guys with the long hair yelling at you. You think they would have learned something. I had this extreme parrot red hair and I got hassled so much I carried a sign that said "FUCK YOU ASSHOLE." I got so tired of yelling it, I would just hold up the sign. [Bobby Startup, Philadelphia punk DJ, "Philadelphia Weekly," Oct. 10, 2001]



"Chinese incense," 1870, from punk (adj.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

punker in Culture


A type of rock 'n' roll with loud, energetic music and often harsh lyrics criticizing traditional society and culture. It was named after the punks, an anarchistic youth movement that surfaced in Great Britain in the 1970s.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.