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Time magazine’s October 22nd issue carries the article titled “Paul Ryan on the campaign trail: More performer than wonk.” The article begins with the following lines:

“Mitt Romney's running mate was doing what he likes best: wonking out." I'm kind of a powerpoint guy, so I hope you'll bear with me," Paul Ryan told about 2,000 people at the University of Central Florida gymnasium in Orlando in late September.”

OALED defines “wonk” as noun, AmE, informal, disapproving, meaning (1) a person who works too hard and is considered boring. (2) a person who takes too much interest in the less important details of political policy.

So I surmise the meaning of “wonk” in the headline as defined in (2) of the above. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

However, I don’t understand what “wonking out” means in the beginning line of the body copy.

OALED doesn’t show usage of “wonk” as a verb, while Readers English Japanese Dictionary at hand shows the usage of wonk” as vi. meaning ‘to study extremely hard,’ and vt. meaning ‘to give an answer from highly technical view point.’

What does “wonking out” mean? Does it mean hard-working like a wonk? Why “out” is necessary? What nuance is added to by adding “out” to “wonk”?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

"Wonking out", like "geeking out", means to not just be a wonk, but to do so excessively in a way to deliberately show off how much of a wonk one is, often with a mixture of pride (toward fellow wonks) and embarrassment (toward non-wonks).

He's putting up his Powerpoint presentation as if to say "See how wonky I am? I will actually bore you with pie graphs instead of giving you sound bites.", but his aim is really to impress the people who value pie graphs more.

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Paul Ryan is often described (maybe self-described) as a policy wonk (meaning (2) in your question). He likes to talk about the technical details of laws and policies. It's boring to most people, because most people want to be entertained with 30-second sound-bites. Entertainers are performers; wonks are like nerds. They may not dress or otherwise look as funny (the stereotype, that is), but what they talk about is called "geek-speak" because it's very technical and might was well be littered with computer terms as economics terms (Ryan's alleged area of expertise).

Think of the phrase to zone out: "to lose consciousness; to pass out". You can zone out because you're bored or smoking dope or daydreaming about being Spiff the Spaceman in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

So wonking out probably means that he started talking about those enigmatic and inherently boring little points of policy to his audience.

Pass out, zone out, and wonk out. All the same pattern. It could be that the out adds an implication of outer space or having an out of body experience.

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+1 for parallel constructions which answer the actual questions. –  StoneyB Oct 13 '12 at 15:56
    
@Bill Franke. I found “Why sex doesn’t gross you Out when you’re aroused” in the headline of today’s Time magazine article. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 13 '12 at 19:58
    
@Yoichi Oishi: And I remembered to pig out (seriously overeat) last night. –  user21497 Oct 13 '12 at 23:32
    
Physicians (especially in the emergency room) call a loss of consciousness, or death, due to cerebrovascular accident (a.k.a. "stroke") stroking out. One can also stress out, which means "to become so nervous as to stop functioning rationally". (In the extreme case, stressing out might lead to stroking out.) Then there's chill out - to relax completely - which has led to the chill-out room, which is either a private sanctuary (if it's in your own house) or a quiet lounge at a bar. –  MT_Head Oct 19 '12 at 7:38
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