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WONK ("wongk") noun [not a radio station]
       origin: unknown

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 and former statesman. Now, he can walk the streets of Portland without people turning their heads or frowning at him. He 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, yes. "

--William Burrington, assistant general counsel of America Online, in response to questioning by Attorney General Janet Reno. (April 1, 1996)

2. One 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 of "know"

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.

3. The American Heritage Dictionary defines "wonk" as
    "A student who studies excessively; a grind."

The Clinton administration, of course, has fairly successfully portrayed this sort of "nerdiness" as a virtue in the age of labyrinthine federal regulations, when only obsessive 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.


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