What Does "Wonk" Mean? The Latest Hillary Clinton Campaign Email Has Many Wondering About The Unfamiliar Word

If you were confused by Hillary Clinton's latest campaign email about "wonks," you weren't alone. The email had many people wondering what exactly this word means and why Clinton's campaign is calling for "wonks for Hillary." So what does "wonk" mean, exactly? What does the word signify? And why does it matter that Clinton is using it?

Though your first instinct might be to say that "wonk" is some sort of noun form of "wonky," the word "wonk" actually isn't related to the word "wonky" at all. While "wonky" is typically defined as "crooked; off-center; askew" (according to the Oxford English Dictionaries), "wonk" means a person who is focused or studious about a particular subject matter. It's a derogatory term, sort of like an old-school version of saying someone is a geek or nerd about something — instead of calling someone a physics nerd or a music geek, you could also theoretically call them a wonk.

But "wonk" is typically used very specifically to refer to matters of politics and public policy. In fact, one of the definitions of "wonk" specifically mentions politics — again according to the OED, "a person who takes an excessive interest in minor details of political policy." So someone who gets really into politics and public policy is what you might call a "policy wonk."

The term "wonk" does have negative connotations, much like the words "geek" or "nerd" do, but it's also true that there's a lot of value in being super knowledgeable about and interested in the details of policy — you know, given that the details of political policy wind up having huge impacts on people's lives.

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It's a point Clinton's campaign makes in their email. “I actually sweat the specifics because they matter,” Clinton is quoted as saying. “Whether one more kid gets health care may just be a detail in Washington — but it’s all that matters to that family worrying about their child.”

So in a sense, it seems that Clinton is trying to reclaim the term "wonk" to be something positive, or at least point out that the word — and wonks themselves — have positive implications, too. It's a smart strategy in a campaign where her presumptive opponent doesn't seem able to produce a coherent policy position on many key issues, and who is campaigning on unfeasible proposals like a building a border wall.

Really, there's never been a better campaign to for a candidate to promote their credentials as a wonk.

"From health care expansion to investing in our infrastructure to gun violence prevention," the campaign email reads, "Hillary has specific plans that dive deep into the root causes of these issues, and propose smart, targeted fixes that will implement changes people can really see and feel in their communities." It also describes her as a "bona fide policy buff."

Nor is Clinton the only wonk to proudly describe herself as such — and now she's inviting the rest of us to join her. The new "Wonks for Hillary" group encourages people to get involved by getting informed.

And there you have it, folks! So now that the confusion is cleared up, you just have to decide if you yourself are a wonk — and if you'll be joining Wonks for Hillary.

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