wonk as a verb

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Jun 27 14:59:23 UTC 2008

On Fri, Jun 27, 2008 at 10:51 AM, Mark Davies <Mark_Davies at byu.edu> wrote:
>>> 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.

Now antedated to 1954 in Time (but not in the BYU Time Corpus?):

1954 _Time_ 1 Mar. (electronic) There are still cliques--of the
literary, the fashionable, and the wonks (latterday meatballs).

> 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)

Once again Time beats the Harvard Crimson (see 1977 cite for the verb

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

That theory's been around for a while, at least folk-etymologically.
>From the Crimson again:

1958 _Harvard Crimson_ 21 Nov. (electronic) By inversion we show /
That "wonk" backwards is "know."

--Ben Zimmer

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

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