I have to confess to being a little confused by the result of my attempts to research the word wonk. I’ve heard the word used a lot lately, so decided to make it my subject for today’s posting.
The dictionaries didn’t prove to be a clarifier for me. In fact, if anything they only added to my dilemma. Perhaps the most confusing definition came from the Slang Dictionary:
an earnest student. (Collegiate.) : Yes, you could call Martin a wonk. In fact, he’s the classic wonk.*
If I were to live with that definition I would consider millions of students at all levels of academia to be wonks simply because they took their studies seriously. That includes microbiology, literature, the fine arts, sports, or even such pursuits as mixology and body art. If, according to the Slang Dictionary, someone is intent upon studying and learning all that they can about a specific subject, they are a wonkAnother source claims that the term originated during the Clinton Administration:
wonk“overly studious person,” 1954, Amer.Eng. student slang, popularized 1993 during Clinton administration in U.S.; perhaps a shortening of Brit. slang wonky “shaky, unreliable” (1919), which perhaps is from Ger. wankel- or from from surviving dialectal words based on O.E. wancol “shaky, tottering” **
1960–65, Americanism ; of expressive orig.; nautical slang wonk “a midshipman,” Australian slang: “white person, homosexual” are probably independent formations
Photo Credit: vinotology
*Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions by Richard A. Spears.Fourth Edition.
Copyright 2007. Published by McGraw Hill.
**Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2012.