Conk

Jazz musician Eddie South, 1946

The conk (derived from congolene, a hair straightener gel made from lye) was a hairstyle popular among African-American men from the 1920s to the 1960s. This hairstyle called for a man with naturally "kinky" hair to have it chemically straightened using a relaxer (sometimes the pure corrosive chemical lye), so that the newly straightened hair could be styled in specific ways. Often, the relaxer was made at home, by mixing lye, eggs, and potatoes, the applier having to wear gloves and the receiver's head having to be rinsed thoroughly after application to avoid chemical burns. Conks were often styled as large pompadours although other men chose to simply slick their straightened hair back, allowing it to lie flat on their heads. Regardless of the styling, conks required a considerable amount of effort to maintain: a man often had to wear a do-rag of some sort at home, to prevent sweat or other agents from causing his hair to revert to its natural state prematurely. Also, the style required repeated application of relaxers; as new hair grew in, it too had to be chemically straightened.

Many of the popular musicians of the early to mid 20th century, including Chuck Berry, Louis Jordan, Little Richard, James Brown, and the members of The Temptations and The Miracles, were well known for sporting the conk hairstyle. The gatefold of the 1968 album Electric Mud shows blues legend Muddy Waters having his hair conked. The style fell out of popularity when the Black Power movement of the 1960s took hold, and the Afro became a popular symbol of African pride. The conk was a major plot device in Spike Lee's film biography Malcolm X, based upon Malcolm X's own condemnation of the hairstyle as black self-degradation in his autobiography because of its implications about the superiority of a more "white" appearance and because of the pain the process causes and the possibility of receiving severe burns to the scalp.

The conk is all but extinct as a hairstyle among African-American men today, although more mildly relaxed hairstyles such as the Jheri curl and the S-curl were popular during the 1980s and 1990s.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • conk — (v.) as in conk out, 1918, coined by World War I airmen, perhaps in imitation of the sound of a stalling motor, reinforced by conk (v.) hit on the head, originally punch in the nose (1821), from conk (n.), slang for nose (1812), perhaps from… …   Etymology dictionary

  • conk — (k[o^][ng]k), v. t. to hit on the head; as, to conk someone on the head with a pipe. [slang] [PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • conk — conk·a·nee; conk; conk·er; …   English syllables

  • conk — Ⅰ. conk [1] ► VERB (conk out) informal 1) (of a machine) break down. 2) faint or go to sleep. 3) die. ORIGIN of unknown origin. Ⅱ. conk …   English terms dictionary

  • conk — (k[o^][ng]k), n. 1. the head. [slang] [PJC] 2. a blow to the head. [slang] [PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • conk — conk1 [käŋk, kôŋk] n. [< CONCH] Slang 1. Brit. the nose 2. the head 3. a blow on the head vt. Slang to hit on the head to hit on the head conk out Slang …   English World dictionary

  • conk — cȍnk DEFINICIJA izgovor i konvencija pisanja za jasan zvuk koji se čuje kad manji tvrdi predmet udari ili padne na metalnu podlogu ETIMOLOGIJA onom …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • conk — I UK [kɒŋk] / US [kɑŋk] verb [transitive] Word forms conk : present tense I/you/we/they conk he/she/it conks present participle conking past tense conked past participle conked informal to hit someone on their head or nose Phrasal verbs: conk out …   English dictionary

  • conk — conk1 [kɔŋk US ka:ŋk, ko:ŋk] n BrE informal a nose conk 2 conk2 v [T] [Date: 1800 1900; Origin: CONK2; conk out 1900 2000 Origin unknown] informal to hit someone hard, especially on the head conk out phr v …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • conk — conk1 [ kaŋk ] verb transitive INFORMAL to hit someone, especially on their head ,conk out phrasal verb intransitive INFORMAL 1. ) to suddenly stop working 2. ) to go to sleep, especially suddenly conk conk 2 [ kaŋk ] noun count BRITISH INFORMAL… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English


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