wonk as a verb

Mark Davies Mark_Davies at BYU.EDU
Fri Jun 27 14:51:19 UTC 2008

>> I don't believe it's been posted here yet, but _wonk_ is also apparently a verb,

First, the OED gives an example of the noun [wonk] as "studious" in the early 1960s:

4. U.S. A disparaging term for a studious or hard-working person.
1962 Sports Illustrated 17 Dec. 21 A wonk, sometimes called a 'turkey' or a 'lunch', roughly corresponds to the 'meatball' of a decade ago.


Then as a verb by 1967: (from the TIME Magazine Corpus: http://corpus.byu.edu/time):

" It is hectic, but when things get tight, he is renowned in the dorm for his ability to "wonk " (know spelled backward), or cram, for exams." (1967)

** This hints at an interesting possible origin for the word.


In the Corpus of American English, 1990-2007 (http://www.americancorpus.org), three different senses of [wonk] as a verb:

"To have sex" (??)
Without turning, Harold waved at Gil, telling him to stay quiet, stay quiet. # " What're they doing? " Gil whispered. # Harold flattened his palm over the hole and turned. " This is exactly like that Red Shoes Diary show, " he said. " He's wonking her right here. She loves it. " # " Lemme look, " Gil said. # " No, you don't want to take no look, " Harold said. " You're too busy. Get out of here. (FICTION: Southern Review, 1997)

"To hit, smack"
So I wonk him in the back of the head and down he goes. When he stands up, I wonk him again and down he goes (FICTION: New Yorker, 2004)

"To be overly detailed / boring"
" Under the mechanics of the caucus, without meaning to wonk out and bore everybody to death, as you all know, there's second-choice dynamics" (SPOKEN: Meet the Press, Nov 25 2007).
This is the first and only occurrence of this sense of the verb in the 360 million words, 1990-2007.

Mark Davies
Professor of (Corpus) Linguistics
Brigham Young University
(phone) 801-422-9168 / (fax) 801-422-0906
Web: davies-linguistics.byu.edu

** Corpus design and use // Linguistic databases **
** Historical linguistics // Language variation **
** English, Spanish, and Portuguese **

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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