Honkenbonkers was recently written about in the West Austin News!
The article was titled “Honkenbonkers in Austin: An Unforgettable Reed” and was written by Jeff Elliot. He wrote about the origins of the word and what has happened with the word over the last year.
Here is the article:
West Austin News
November 26, 2015
Honkenbonkers in Austin: An Unforgettable Reed
By Jeff Elliot
It’s around midnight. The cat is purring, nestled against my knee. Something by Prokofiev is clanging on a piano on the radio, although the signal is weak. I can see the roof of the radio station from my back window, but the scratch of FM interference sounds much closer. In an instant, I have a striking insight into the little world I have around me. Every little object (and one creature) that fills my humble abode has a distinct role, and signifies something very clear. Everything is fashioned in a more or less meaningful way, and fulfills some immanent usefulness. “Form is function” as many schools of design – and many designers in school- agree. The curtains to block the light from the street lamps, the rug to shield my feet from a rude awakening on a cold winter morning, and the incessant meowing of a cat to remind me that mammal life could always be worse. Even the sharp sound of fuzz cutting through the plaintive, listless music tells me something critical about the world around me.
Not all of us are so fortunate when it comes to separating the signal from the noise in our immediate environment, or in finding ways to put our sensory experiences into neat and tidy order. For one remarkable young man, this dilemma was a stark reality starting from a young age. Reed Elenz, currently a senior at Austin High School, was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2nd grade.
A few notes on dyslexia- the condition is classified by various health organizations as a neurological disorder that affects reading and writing. It is estimated to affect nearly 40 million Americans, among them around 8,500,000 children. By no means does the condition necessarily hamper intellectual growth, nor preclude professional success. In fact, the ALC states that nearly 50% of NASA employees are dyslexic, and that many well-known people throughout history such as Albert Einstein and Whoopi Goldberg thrived despite their dyslexia. Modern therapy is primarily targeted at learning ways of overcoming the condition’s impact on reading and speech, and it is generally acknowledged that dyslexia can be managed, or even overcome to a large degree with therapy, practice, community support, and a little patience.
For Reed, many of the challenges of dyslexia were addressed and remedied during his younger years beginning at Brykerwoods Elementary then at the Rawson Saunders, a full-curriculum school in Austin that specializes in dyslexia. He transitioned to O’Henry middle school and then attended Austin high school, where he became the football team’s mascot. It was around this time last year that he thought of a word, a neologism that spontaneously came to him in a cheerful moment among friends; the word was “honkenbonkers”. “It was something I yelled to make my friends laugh; they thought it was funny, so I kept saying it to get the same response from other friends, and no one knew what it meant for the longest time. I got asked about it a lot… people just thought I was crazy! I decided to define it after people asked me what it meant. After a month or so, that is… at first, I left it up to others to decide what it meant. I initially just said it a lot, either when meeting people or just for fun. I used it to mean something awesome, as a greeting.”
Not one to stop with a mere comedy routine, Reed pressed on. Acting as the word’s first -and arguably best- advocate, honkenbonkers took off and became well known at his school. He decided to place it in a few online dictionaries, including Webster’s Open-Source Online Dictionary. One Sunday night early this year, a couple of weeks after posting the word online, Reed googled “honkenbonkers” to see if it had turned up in usage anywhere interesting; he came across a Wall Street Journal article written by Ben Zimmer that declared it one of the “words to watch in 2015”. Reed’s father thought he was just staying up late on a Sunday, but Reed told his father that “I’m in the Wall Street Journal!” Doug Elenz, Reed’s father, has a subscription, and was initially skeptical. “I read the Wall Street Journal! I didn’t see it in there! I went and grabbed the Saturday edition to double check, and sure enough, there it was! Out of all the words on that online dictionary, he picked honkenbonkers!”
I asked Reed how 2015 had progressed for “honkenbonkers”. Reed started a company and a website (honkenbonkers.com), and took on the challenges of creating the website, as well as consulting with an accountant, banker, lawyer and a graphic designer. It has been very successful so far; he has also become something of a celebrity. Going on a vacation recently, he met a group of people in the airport who recognized him and started a conversation with him about honkenbonkers. “An airport?” I asked. Reed hasn’t bought his first private jet yet, but there was talk of it.
In addition to building his company, Reed has also started investing back into our community. Recently, Honkenbonkers sponsored the very first Austin Independent School District (AISD) conference for dyslexia awareness. “It felt like they’re showing that they care about students with dyslexia, and that things are beginning to change.” After the conference, US Senator John Cornyn and US Congressman Lamar Smith both reached out to their constituent Elenz to thank him for his work. Congressman Smith told Reed about a remarkable piece of legislation concerning dyslexia. Called the “READ Act”, the bill will guarantee that $5 million annually will be set aside by National Science Foundation to research dyslexia, potential therapies for dyslexics, and promote greater public advocacy and educational programs about dyslexia to facilitate better understanding of the condition, especially in the STEM programs of our nation’s schools. “If this act passes, there will be a lot more funding for research and studies”, Reed told me. The bill is currently working its way through the legislation; as of publication, it has passed the House and is on its way to the Senate.
The future is looking very bright for Reed. As well as becoming the CEO of his own startup, dabbling in politics and philanthropy, and being the Maroon’s mascot on the gridiron, Reed plays drums, and is planning to attend college. I assume he also finds time to do his homework, and occasionally sleep and eat as well! By nearly any metric, 2015 was a great success for honkenbonkers, and I’m certain that 2016 will continue to see honkenbonkers- and Reed- grow in leaps and bounds. When I asked him about the future of his new word, he told me that he hopes it will be in common use one day, and that it will find its way into English dictionaries far and wide. Sounds pretty honkenbonkers to me, Reed.