Posted by: Bill Tracy | November 30, 2010

Got Hunch?



Hunch. It’s an unusual word. It’s not a word I hear a lot nowadays. Outside of a 1950’s Hollywood movie, when was the last time you heard anybody say, “I’ve got a hunch about that guy,” or “I’m going to play a hunch”? Play a hunch? What does that mean? On a rare occasion, I’ll hear one of those old, gravel-voiced play-by-play guys on radio say a baseball manager “went with a hunch” when deciding who was going to pinch-hit or play left field today. Otherwise, I never hear the word. (I may also be the only one left still listening to baseball on the radio.) Anyway, I always wonder about such things. So I did a little snooping around – guess I had a hunch the word wasn’t absolutely dead.


Winter Sky

I have a hunch it's going to rain, maybe snow.

One thing I found was a substantial and interesting Web site, Now a couple of years old, they’re trying to grow an artificial intelligence site you can use for social decision making. The basic idea of a hunch is that you incline to a certain decision based on a lot of stuff locked up in the subconscious brain that you can’t immediately call up to support your decision. In some ways, seems to do exactly that, and in other ways, it seems not to do that at all. The site sets up a profile for you based on your answers to 20 or more questions – sort of like setting up your subconscious in computerized form. Tell them whether you prefer a red or blue toothbrush, your opinion of zoos, and how you like your eggs cooked, and will tell you what kind of camera to buy, magazines to read, clothes to wear, etc. Their explanation is a little more elaborate and complicated:


Hunch personalizes the internet by getting to know you and then making smart recommendations about what you might like. Hunch’s ambitious mission is to build a ‘taste graph’ of the entire web, connecting every person on the web with their affinity for anything, from books to electronic gadgets to fashion or vacation spots. Hunch is at the forefront of combining algorithmic machine learning with user-curated content, with the goal of providing better recommendations for everyone. Hunch provides personalized recommendations on tens of thousands of topics on and is now partnering with other companies to power custom recommendations on 3rd-party sites and applications. Hunch was started by clever folks who were exploring how machine learning could be used to provide smart, taste-driven, highly-customized recommendations.


After I answered their questions, they said I should by a $25,000 camera. (Seems like they don’t factor your financial situation into the equations – although I’d sure like to have that camera.) Maybe it’s useful. Maybe it’s a time-wasting Internet bauble. Only time will tell, I guess.


The origins of the word “hunch” don’t seem real clear to me. The Online Etymology Dictionary offers this:


originally (1581) a verb, “to push, thrust,” of unknown origin. Meaning “raise or bend into a hump” is 1598, in hunchbacked.  Perhaps a variant of bunch.  Figurative sense of “hint, tip” (a “push” toward a solution or answer), first recorded 1849, led to that of “premonition, presentiment” (1904). © 2010 Douglas Harper



Logo for

A lot of words come to my mind when I hear the word “hunch.” They include: gut feeling; intuition; premonition; vague notion; funny feeling; surmise; conjecture; prescience perhaps; suspicion; best guess. I rigged up my own definition of “playing a hunch,” as: taking action that anticipates a certain outcome based on ineffable intangibles – such as past experience, subject knowledge, known circumstances, suspicions, potentially pertinent facts, etc. What seems to me the most likely possible origin comes from an old gambling myth. In less reasonable times, gamblers believed that touching the hump of a hunchbacked person brought luck – hence, “playing a hunch.”


Back in the fifties, when the word “hunch” was apparently more common, there was a television game show called “Play Your Hunch.” It ran from 1958 through 1963. For the first four of those years, it was hosted by game show impresario Merv Griffin (Yes, the Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune guy). Guess he had a hunch in ’62 that it wasn’t going to last so he got out! The show was based on couple teams providing best-guess answers to uncertain situations and circumstances the game offered. For example, they might show a film clip of five men playing saxophones. The contestant couple had to identify the one who was only pretending to play. I have a hunch it was the guy with the mustache.


Actor Bob Bailey

Actor Bob Bailey played Johnny Dollar on the radio.

I often listen to 1950’s radio episodes of “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.” He’s the garden-variety, hard-boiled detective/investigator who is always “playing a hunch,” or telling someone “my hunches usually pay off,” or defending his actions against people who say he’s “only playing a hunch.” The contrast for me is pretty stark – hearing it so often in that 60-year-old dialogue, and then never hearing it from anyone in 2010.


The world I see now is one where people are polarized because they’re sure of everything. I guess since we know everything now, we don’t need hunches anymore. Those “liberals” are wrong about everything, and I know it. The TEA Party nuts are ruining the country, and I’m sure of it. The Muslims are out to get us, and I know that’s a fact. The media is wrecking democracy, no question. I guess we’re all so sure of everything that we don’t have room for hunches anymore. Without uncertainty, what do we need with hunches? Perhaps 50 or 60 years ago people weren’t so sure of everything. Maybe that explains it, I don’t know.


Maybe if takes off, we’ll get the word “hunch” back into ordinary circulation. I’m not betting on it though. Even if the Web site does take off, I’ve got a hunch they’ll change the name. How does sound?



  1. I really cant resist ,,,, I’v just got a your right

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