• wingnut •
wing-nêt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A bolt nut with wings to allow tightening with the fingers, a thumbnut (see photo). 2. An Asian walnut tree whose nuts have wing-like projections. 3. (British slang) A person with protruding ears. 4. (Slang) A crazy person. 5. (Slang) A fanatical fan of any sports team with "wing" in its name (e.g. the Detroit Red Wings). 6. (Slang) Someone with extreme political opinions, usually right-wing.
Notes: The number of meanings for this relatively recent word indicates how unsure we are of how to use it, other than in the mechanical sense (No. 1). The political meaning is odd since it makes sense in reference to any extremist, that is, a right-wing nut or a left-wing nut. However, it is used almost exclusively to refer to conservative extremists. (Liberal extremists are referred to, even more oddly, as moonbats—don't ask.) Dictionaries generally consider this compound two separate words: wing nut. We think it a simple compound.
In Play: This word is a failure in that it was intended as a pejorative term for conservative extremists, but most take it humorously: "Many people think that Fox News is a bowl of wingnuts." No one is offended by this bit of US slang: "Dominic is such a wingnut that he had a picture of John McCain painted on his house." It would be easier to take down had he attached it with wingnuts (meaning No. 1).
Word History: Wingnut has been around since the turn of the 20th century though usually spelled as two words. The sense of "crazy person" was first recorded in 1989. Wingnut in the political sense began appearing in the early 21st century in liberal blogs and newsletters. The word wing comes from Old Norse vængr "wing" and is akin to wind. This word replaced Old English feðra "wings" (see How is a Hippo like a Feather?). Nut is related to German Nuss and Latin nux (nuc-s), visible in the root of English nucleus. (Today we thank the wordnut, Jerry Gault, whatever his politics, for suggesting this new word for us.)