Ned’s post below reminded me of a running pub conversation we’ve had over the past few weeks regarding the etymology of the word “wonk.” Fortunately I have my good friend google who offers some clues:
From here (big scroll down, hence the copying):
wonk – 1954, popularized 1993 during Clinton administration in U.S.; perhaps a shortening of Brit. slang wonky “shaky, unreliable,” from dialectal words based on O.E. wancol “shaky, tottering.” Or perhaps a variant of Brit. slang wanker “masturbator.” It was earlier British naval slang for “midshipman.”
Further examination here:
But whence comes this wonk? A good question. Britain’s Royal Navy had its wonks in the 1920s: “new cadets or new midshipmen of questionable ability.” (A possible etymology, the adjective wonky, meaning “tipsy, unsteady, unsound,” carries nuances that haven’t been fully Americanized.) Following a few intermediate unflattering turns, by the 1960s wonk was the word at Harvard for the kind of people that the late Alabama Governor George Wallace eventually decried as “pointy-headed intellectuals.” The typical policy wonk lives for policy issues likely to induce drowsiness in others.
One claiming willy wonka, and know backwards as options here (scroll down a bit)
Even this word wonk doesn’t know (he has got a cool etymology site though :)), but it does seem likely that Harvard is to blame…