WONK ("wongk") noun [not
a radio station]
1. One who delights in having expertise
in an arcane and often tedious area of study.
"The relaxed gait and cheerful banter reflect a man who is
obviously comfortable with his new role as policy wonk
former statesman. Now, he can walk the streets of Portland
without people turning their heads or frowning at him.
is, after all, just another man in a gray suit."
--Barbera Serrano, "[Former Senator Bob] Packwood may seek
office again" in The Seattle Times (April 24, 1998) "
Q: Do you consider
yourself to be a technical expert on the
specific technical aspects of commercial on-line services?
A: Not -- not as a computer wonk,
if you will, but as a layperson, technical understanding,
--William Burrington, assistant
general counsel of America
Online, in response to questioning by Attorney General
Janet Reno. (April 1, 1996)
who studies excessively; a grind.What's the origin
of "wonk," as
in "a politically connected know-it-all"?
A guess is
that its origin is a backwards spelling
That's wrong- The
theory that "wonk" is
simply "know" spelled backwards
has been around for a while, although the "wonk/know" convergence
is almost certainly a simple coincidence.
American Heritage Dictionary defines "wonk" as
student who studies excessively; a grind."
administration, of course, has fairly successfully
portrayed this sort of "nerdiness" as a virtue
in the age of labyrinthine federal regulations, when
study holds any hope of chopping through
the jungle of bureaucratese.
The origin of "wonk" is, alas, obscure at best,
though several theories exist. The current meaning of "wonk" is
fairly recent, appearing in the U.S. as student slang in
the early 1960's. There is also an obscure adjective "wonky," meaning "shaky" or "wrong," from
an Old English word meaning "unsteady," but
there is no evidence that it is related to our modern "wonk."
Another meaning of "wonk," although differing
somewhat from "studious," may
hold the key to its origin. A "wonk" in British
Navy slang is a naval cadet, untrained in the ways
of the sea and hardly an asset aboard ship. In what
may or may not be a coincidence, "wonk" is
also the common term foreign visitors to China use
for "dog" (from the Chinese "huang gua" or "yellow
dog"). It seems possible that British sailors
picked up the word in China and found it a handy way
to describe naval cadets, well-versed in book learning
but worse than useless on the high seas.