• wonky •
wawng-kee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: (British Slang) 1. Shaky, wobbly, unstable, as 'a wonky chair with a loose leg'. 2. Weak, unreliable, untenable, as 'a wonky argument' or 'a wonky worker'.
Notes: Today's Good Word is one of those words lurking in the shadows of the fringes of our vocabulary. It is still in the spotlight outside the US, but here in the US we have come up with wonk, another word for nerd, making wonky a synonym for nerdy. However you use today's word, feel free to use the comparative forms wonkier and (the) wonkiest, as well as the noun wonkiness.
In Play: The basic sense of today's word is "unstable, wobbly": "Coming home from the office party in the wee hours, Harvey Wallbanger was a bit wonky on his legs." We may, however, extend this meaning figuratively to other forms of instability: "I don't think I'd depend on anyone as wonky as Lucinda Head for advice; Lucy's a brick or two shy of a full load."
Word History: If we pronounce the A in the word wanky [ah], as it was originally pronounced, it sounds very much like modern day wonky. Wanky is a dialectal variant of wankle, from Old English wancol "unsteady". We find relatives of this word in other Germanic languages like German wanken "shake, stagger" and Swedish vackla "wobble, stagger". Now since the sounds of G and K are identical except for the vibration of the vocal cords in pronouncing G, we could respectably speculate that today's word might be related to words like it ending on G. Wag immediately presents itself. We have precedent for this relationship in the words swagger and swank, where we also see the comings and goings of the N. In fact, these two words are probably related to wanky and hence to our word wonky. (We are both happy and grateful that Suzanne Williams was not in the least bit wonky in deciding to suggest to us today's Good Word.)