Wonk, wonky, wonkish

Today’s Word of the Week is brought to you by people who are “all work and no play”, as the saying goes.

I first encountered this word as “wonkish”, which I figured must be one of those made-up words people tend to use when they turn a noun into an adjective or adverb (or whatever! I mean to say, “desking”???)  in an attempt to be grammatically correct. Like, for example, “honey-ish”.

Actually, scratch that. What do I know? Turns out “honeyish” is in fact a proper word according to Wikipedia.

Anyway, back to my original word. Which happens to be….


So what does “wonkish” mean, exactly? You could be forgiven for thinking it’s got something to do with being shaky or unbalanced, considering one possible origin of this word. But I’ll get to that shortly.

“Wonkish” is the adjective of “wonk”, which, as it happens, turns out to have more to with being unbalanced in socially than physically.

WONK:  noun
(i)  an overly studious person
(ii) student who spends so much time studying they have little or no social life
(iii) a boring or unattractive person
(iv) person who excessively and assiduously studies a subject or issue (e.g. a policy wonk)


Well, according to my online research, the term “wonk” became popular in 1993 during the Clinton administration. There’s also speculation it might have derived from the British slang “wonky”, meaning shaky or unreliable… which in turn might have come from the German word “wankel”, which I believe means “indecisive”… and seems to have stemmed from “wancol”, which means “shaky or tottering.”  And all I have to say about all that is it’s perhaps preferable to the possibility that it’s a variant of the British slang word “wanker”.

I think I’ll stick to “overly studious.”

And with school end of year exams imminent, here’s to both my kids being wonks of the overly studious kind!



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