Saturday, April 15, 2006


Students "hook up" at Centre College, as they do at most other colleges. The term is deliberately ambiguous, covering all sorts of ill-advised physical intimacy from kissing to intercourse, usually while drunk.

Not all students hook up, though. Recently one of those who does not was describing a conversation among a group of students, in which they started listing all the people each had hooked up with. It became a game to see if they were all linked indirectly in this way. All of them were – except my student (and bully for her, I say).

I passed this on to my brother-in-law. He says this issue arose one day in his Cornell University dormitory, Risley Hall, where they made a giant hook-up map which connected all of the dormitory's residents – save my brother-in-law and his roommate. And bully for them, too. He says this conversation led the Cornell students to create a special term to describe how two people who have hooked up with the same third party are related to one another. The word they came up with is "unkatunk," which, as far as he can recall, was just a nonsense sound that appealed to them. And sure enough, the word appears on, with this definition:


defines the relationship in which you and someone you know have slept with the same person. kind of a variant on the transitive property of sexual multiplication.

a < -- sex -- > b
b <-- sex -- > c
a < -- unkatunk --> c

orig. Risley Hall, Cornell University

My surveys at Centre revealed that hooking up does not go all the way to intercourse as often as other people think it does. I expect the same is true at Cornell. Nonetheless, if, say, Facebook were to connect all the various hook ups it notes, I would guess that three quarters of the entire national college-going class are within six degrees of unkatunk of one another.


Anonymous said...

I don't know when your brother-in-law lived in Risley, but by the time I got there (1998-2002), unkatunk was more of a "six degrees of separation" thing wherein we traced our unkatunk lineage to famous people like Tori Amos and Trent Reznor. Glad to see it's making the rounds in the blogosphere, though I must say I was disappointed w/ the urbandictionary definition of it as "sex," since it was more fun if it was just "the exchange of bodily fluids."

Anonymous said...

I found this through Google, so I'm replying months late but -- a decade before Mr. McNair's time, "unkatunk" most definitely did not have anything to do with sex degrees of separation and famous people. It meant exactly what the urban dictionary defined it as, and I personally saw the unkatunk chart you spoke of.

Anonymous said...

Freudian slip -- I meant to write "six degrees", not "sex degrees". LOL.

Gruntled said...

As a sociologist, my first reaction is to want to count the degrees of relation, and the intensity of the "exchange of bodily fluids" that produced the connection. I would also want to test the hypothesis that being a central node in an intense unkatunk network (i.e., a slut) would be inversely related in later years to success and longevity of marriage. But that is a study for another dataset.

Anonymous said...

The Urban Dictionary description of "unkatunk" accurately describes our use of it in Risley '83-'87. The popular etymology (and I have not verified this) was that it was an Inuit word meaning, well, exactly what we were using it for.

Our chart was made in 1980. Rumors that I was a solitary un-networked dot are deeply libelous, albeit true.