Saturday, October 17, 2015


I recently used the word "wonk" in conversation and several people swore they had never heard the word used previously.  I commented that it is rather an "old" word to me as I recall hearing Al Gore being labeled as a "policy wonk" during two campaigns.   I was not very surprised that "elderly" people such as myself did not know the word but I was surprised that a young person, who was present, also did not know the word, as it is sometimes used--although I think incorrectly-- as a synonym for "nerd".

"Wonk" is used nowadays as a disparaging term for a detail-oriented, studious, hard-working person, thus a "policy wonk".

It is unfortunate that we do not have MORE "wonks", especially when I hear the current crop of Presidential candidates display their ignorance about the Constitution, history, politics, economics, world geography, religion, and TRUTH!

However, the derivation of the word is interesting.  My "bible", The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) shows that the word "wonk" has been used since 1918, in the UK as a slang nautical term for an ineffectual person, in Australia in 1938 to describe a white person, again in Australia in 1945 to describe an effeminate person, and in 1962 in a Sports Illustrated article using the words "preppies, "jocks" and "wonks" to describe different kinds of students at Harvard.  More recently, Erich Segal used the word in 1970 in his book Love Story to describe a "musical wonk".  It has been suggested that it might be an acronym for WithOutNormalKnowledge.  In 1992, the word was used in The Washington Post to describe a "policy wonk", thus the current, common usage.

CLICK HERE to read an interesting article:  "WHERE DO NEW WORDS COME FROM?":

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Remember when the woman--who actually said she was a "wordsmith"--had never heard the word "vet" used to describe an investigation to determine a candidate's acceptability? ML