crouch, squat, hunker

It begins with this photo by male photographer Howard Roffman:


(This is a scanned-in image of a postcard that I will use to make an Asterixion. It bears the marks of a rough passage through the mail, but in the Asterixion these will be covered up by a caption and stickers. [Now done: see  Roffman 21 in “Asterixions 2”.])

I wanted a word to refer to the young man’s stance — a noun, or a verb referring to taking this stance. What came to me first was crouch, but I realized that there was a more specific word. Eventually, I dredged up two more words, squat and hunker. And wondered about the meaning distinctions between these words.

I’ll start with crouch. From NOAD2:

verb [no obj.]     adopt a position where the knees are bent and the upper body is brought forward and down, sometimes to avoid detection or to defend oneself: we crouched down in the trench | (be crouched) : Leo was crouched before the fire.

• (crouch over) bend over in this way so as to be close to (someone or something): she was crouching over some flower bed.

noun [in sing.]     a crouching stance or posture.

Crouches can go from very shallow to very deep. A very shallow crouch, in a baseball player’s batting stance:


A deeper crouch, from football:


The other two words, squat and hunker, are defined as types of crouches, deeper than those in #2 and #3. For squat, the relevant entries from NOAD2:

verb [no obj.]    crouch or sit with one’s knees bent and one’s heels close to or touching one’s buttocks or the back of one’s thighs: I squatted down in front of him.

• [with obj.]    Weightlifting crouch down in such a way and rise again while holding (a specified weight) at one’s shoulders: he can squat 850 pounds.

noun [in sing.]    a position in which one’s knees are bent and one’s heels are close to or touching one’s buttocks or the back of one’s thighs.

• Weightlifting an exercise in which a person squats down and rises again while holding a barbell at shoulder level.

• (in gymnastics) an exercise involving a squatting movement or action.

(There are also senses of squat referring to unlawfully occupying an uninhabited building or settling on a piece of land; a noun squat, short for diddly-squat; and an adjective squat ‘short and thickset; disproportionately broad or wide’ (NOAD2).)

More detail, from Wikipedia:

Squatting is a posture where the weight of the body is on the feet (as with standing) but the knees are bent either fully (full or deep squat) or partially (partial, half, semi, parallel or monkey squat). In contrast, sitting, involves taking the weight of the body, at least in part, on the buttocks against the ground or a horizontal object such as a chair seat.

Roffman’s guy in #1 is squatting. The stance is regularly adopted by small children, as here:


And it’s the stance adopted by people using a squat toilet. A Chinese squat toilet:


From Wikipedia:

A squat toilet (also known as an Arabic, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Iranian, Indian, Pakistani, Turkish or Natural-Position toilet; or Nile pan) is a toilet used by squatting, rather than sitting. There are several types of squat toilets, but they all consist essentially of a hole in the ground. The only exception is a “pedestal” squat toilet, which is of the same height as a sitting toilet. It is also possible to squat over sitting toilets, but this requires extra care as they are not specifically designed for squatting.

[Digression on the compound squat toilet. It’s not clear whether squat in this compound is a verb (‘a toilet used by squatting’) or a noun (‘a toilet used via a squat’). The contrast with toilets used by sitting suggests that either analysis is possible: such a toilet is called either a sit toilet (with the verb sit) or a sitting toilet (with the noun sitting).]

Now to hunker. From NOAD2:

verb   squat or crouch down low: he hunkered down beside her.

• hunch; bend: burly workers hunkered over the menu of the day.

• take shelter in a defensive position: the best way to deal with your father is to hunker down and let it blow over.

A cultural note from Wikipedia:

Hunkerin’ (hunkering) is where a person sits on the balls of their feet in a squatting position. It is common worldwide, but briefly became an American fad in the late 1950s.

Hunkerin’ had been in use in many cultures, particularly in Asia, for centuries when it suddenly became a fad in the United States in 1959.

A hunkering man:


To summarize: crouch is the neutral verb in this set; squat refers to a deep crouch; and hunker refers to squatting on the balls of the feet (that is, hunkering is the deepest possible squatting). Roffman’s guy in #1 is squatting but not hunkering.

4 Responses to “crouch, squat, hunker”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    To me, there’s also something about “Crouch” that implies preparation for movement. A feline predator crouches to spring; one would never call such an action “squatting” or “hunkering”.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Just occurred to me that Crouch, Squat, & Hunker would be a wonderful name for a mock firm. But of what type?

  3. Doug Wyman Says:

    Reminds me of Dewey, Chetam and Howe…

  4. XP Says:

    Thanks so much for this thorough research! It’s very helpful!

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