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View Full Version : What does the word 'Wanker' mean in America?


Ben Hicks
07-17-2003, 09:39 PM
While browsing through Cecil's column on whether .999... = 1 (https://academicpursuits.us/columns/030711.html) I was mildly taken aback to read:


Cecil said

Q: Why are we talking about this incredibly esoteric topic when there are so many more interesting things to discuss, like whether Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is wearing anything besides blue body paint in the new X-Men movie?

A: Because it's cool, you wanker. Here, have a banana while the rest of us discuss.


Now, in the UK a wanker is someone who is fixated with jerking off. I figure that a national syndicated column like The Straight Dope wouldn't feature words with this fairly explicit meaning so I'm guessing the word means something different in the States.

If so, what does it mean?

Alereon
07-17-2003, 09:47 PM
It means the exact same thing as it does in the UK, someone who masturbates. At least, I've never heard any alternate meaning.

3waygeek
07-17-2003, 09:48 PM
Note that Cecil's column runs in "alternative" newspapers, which tend to use somewhat more colorful language than mainstream papers.

Having said that, wanker isn't exactly a common insult here, so it can sometimes get past media censors. A more common insult here is jerk-off, which means more or less the same thing.

AntaresJB
07-17-2003, 11:23 PM
Another possible reason that they can get away with it is because "wanker" is thought of as just "one of those British words" in the US. Like on TV, when there's a character from the UK, we all know he's British because he'll say "bloody" a lot and calls people "wankers". Everyone goes, "Oho! It's just one of those words the British use all the time! Therefore it can't be as bad as all that!" Similar to how, IIRC, "bloody" is much more offensive in the UK than it is here.

Space Vampire
07-18-2003, 12:01 AM
Yes. We've discussed it before. Most people know what it means, (but maybe it's just my crowd, I don't know) we just don't care. In my opinion, British curses and slang sound too funny to REALLY be offensive. So sod off you bloody tosser. Hahahahahaahaha, sheer hilarity for all ages!

antechinus
07-18-2003, 12:18 AM
I asked an american exchange student this same question recently. He was from Chile. He said that a wanker is a "lazy person".

I am surprised that the UK meaning is a compulsive onanist. I thought it was the same as the Aussie meaning: "A person who considers themselves overly important, cultured or sophisticated. Arrogant and self absorbed."

antechinus
07-18-2003, 12:30 AM
Sorry for the slight hijack. From the Macquarie (australian) dictionary.

wanker noun
1. (Derogatory) an obnoxious or annoying person.
2. a self-indulgent or egotistical person.

Catalyst
07-18-2003, 12:52 AM
Random American checking in: In every case I've heard or said wanker, it's been using the definition that antechinus provides. It literally means "somebody who masturbates," but the implication is more that they're irritating or egotistical. On the other hand, if I say "he's upstairs wanking," I do in fact mean he's having a J. Arthur.

AskNott
07-18-2003, 01:20 AM
Considering the reference to the blue-painted actress, Cecil was certainly talking about the act of coming unscrewed. In a broader sense, in midwest America, wanker is a general-purpose insult meaning fool, especially one with a narrow focus in life, such as Ms. Romijn-Stamos's bodypaint or a Supreme Court Justice's retirement portfolio.

On these shores, wanker is different from wonk. Wonk is a smart guy or gal with a narrow focus, such as energy or civil liberties.

"_____________is a ______________ wonk." is not necessarily a bad thing, though it may mean that person is boring at parties.

dtilque
07-18-2003, 02:43 AM
It could be someone who lives in Wanker's Corner, Oregon...

Ranchoth
07-18-2003, 03:09 AM
Well, here'n ol' California, it really isn't a commonly used word at all, and I'd doubt that most people would even know what it means.

...But, on the other hand, it's really not too hard for a casual observer to tell that "wanker" isn't exactly meant as a compliment. I mean, if I said; "Ben Hicks? Ha! What a noodge!" it's still pretty easy to infer that "noodge" is an meant as an insult, even if one doesn't actually know what "noodge" means.

And, oddly enough, my Dictionary of American Slang (3rd edition) lists one of the possible definitions for "wanker" as being "Party Animal." This usage being primarily among "Canadian students" in the 1990s.

ccwaterback
07-18-2003, 03:10 AM
Wanker is a euphemism for jerk-off. I can call one of my buds a wanker and we get a laugh out of it. If I call him a jerk-off we might end up in a fight. I have also heard the term wuss used on tv and radio without censor. Wuss is just a euphemism for pussy. You can call a guy a wuss and not really piss him off too bad, but I suggest you don't call a guy a pussy.

grimpixie
07-18-2003, 03:14 AM
I can quite easily see how "wanker" can move from meaning "someone who wanks" to "someone obsesed with self-pleasuring" to "egotistical and self-absorbed" to "irritating little shit that you'd strangle if no-one was watching".

Not that I know anyone like that :)

Grim

bibliophage
07-18-2003, 06:08 AM
Since this is a comment on one of Cecil's columns, I'll move this thread to the Comments on Cecil's Columns forum.

bibliophage
moderator GQ

_____________________________

Originally posted by dtilque
It could be someone who lives in Wanker's Corner, Oregon... Or Wanker Draw, a small valley in eastern Wyoming.

Colophon
07-18-2003, 06:11 AM
Maybe these guys (http://wankerscorner.com) could tell you. (I especially enjoyed the shop selling "Wankerwear".)

MC Master of Ceremonies
07-18-2003, 06:13 AM
Originally posted by AntaresJB
Another possible reason that they can get away with it is because "wanker" is thought of as just "one of those British words" in the US. Like on TV, when there's a character from the UK, we all know he's British because he'll say "bloody" a lot and calls people "wankers". Everyone goes, "Oho! It's just one of those words the British use all the time! Therefore it can't be as bad as all that!" Similar to how, IIRC, "bloody" is much more offensive in the UK than it is here.

No, bloody is not offensive the UK, though about 100-50 years ago it still would of been frowned upon (bloody is a contraction of "by my lady").

Wanker on the other hand in the UK is one of the taboo-words.

WotNot
07-18-2003, 06:14 AM
I have occasionally seen Americans using the word as a synomym for “penis”. I’ve no idea how widespread this misapplication is, but it‘s clearly out there somewhere.

MC Master of Ceremonies
07-18-2003, 06:16 AM
I think you mean "wangler"(?), WotNot

raygirvan
07-18-2003, 07:26 AM
antechinus: agreed. UK usage is the same; a "wanker" - whatever its literal meaning, is someone who's precious, irritating - something like a jerk or a "git", which has been discussed here before.

I'd always assumed "wank(er)" meant nothing much in the USA; the title of Jack Vance's 1969 SF novel "Servants of the Wankh" has always amused British SF fans.

naita
07-18-2003, 07:33 AM
Originally posted by MC Master of Ceremonies
(bloody is a contraction of "by my lady").


No it isn't. Word Detective (http://word-detective.com/111097.html#bloody)

MC Master of Ceremonies
07-18-2003, 07:49 AM
naita That's what it says in Chamber's Dictionary English Dictionary, also your source is incorrect in that it says bloody is still an expletive today in the UK, it's not.

naita
07-18-2003, 08:03 AM
This source doesn't mention "by my lady" either: online etymology (http://etymonline.com/b4etym.htm)

Not having access to OED, since it's costs money, I can't say this for sure. But the word detective probably uses this as an authorative source on current use of expletives. While this isn't accurate I suspect his reference works outweigh Chamber's on the etymology.

WotNot
07-18-2003, 09:16 AM
Originally posted by MC Master of Ceremonies
I think you mean "wangler"(?), WotNot

Then you think wrongly. I said what I meant, and I meant what I said. If it had only been the once, I’d have thought :wally and left it at that, but as I said, I’ve seen it a few times now. Then again, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen “teh” used as the definite article, so I don’t necessarily attach any great significance to it. I just thought it was worth mentioning.

On another point, we bloody well do use “bloody” as a bloody expletive. If, however, you meant that Word Detective over-estimates the offensiveness of the word to British ears, then I’m in full agreement with you. I’ve never understood this oft-repeated assertion that we in the UK are liable to be shocked by the use of “bloody” – but perhaps I move in vulgar circles.

And I don’t believe the “By Our Lady” story, either.:D

Irishman
07-18-2003, 09:46 AM
Staff report on "bloody": https://academicpursuits.us/mailbag/mbloody.html
As to how offensive the word actually is, well, that depends on whom you ask, or say it in front of. It's fair to compare it to the "F-word," in that it may cause your mum to faint, but may cause scarcely a raised eyebrow amongst the gang at the pub.

hammos1
07-18-2003, 09:50 AM
Originally posted by Alereon
It means the exact same thing as it does in the UK, someone who masturbates. At least, I've never heard any alternate meaning. WTF? 'Wanker' does not mean 'someone who masturbates', except where the context clearly indicates so. In the vast majority of cases, it means 'an irritating or stupid person'- i.e. the person in the cinema speaking loudly on a mobile, the person who cuts you up in traffic.

I agree that Cecil's usage was unusual, from the perspective of register. He used it as if it were an equally mild substitute for something like 'fool' or 'idiot'- but it's not. To give US readers an idea, imagine if he had used the word 'c*nt' instead- this would have been much worse, of course, but it has the same feeling of being excessive for the circumstances.

On a side note, I've also noticed that Cecil uses the word 'arse' instead of 'ass'- is this becoming common usage in the US or is it another example of Cecil's lingustic anglophilia?

samclem
07-18-2003, 10:42 AM
We've done the bloody/by my lady thing before.
http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=155819&highlight=bloody

No evidence that it comes from "by my Lady" or "by our Lady."

The preponderance of the evidence would indicate it doesn't.

ccwaterback
07-18-2003, 10:47 AM
And of course, we always have brother George's seven dirty words:

http://erenkrantz.com/Humor/SevenDirtyWords.shtml

Irishman
07-18-2003, 10:57 PM
I said it in another thread - we have denotation and connotation. The denotation for wanker is masturbator. That is the origin of the word. The connotation is pathetic loser, an asshole, a right bastard. That is a meaning that grew out of the implication that a perpetual masturbator is a loser.

Sort of like the term asshole. The denotation is the orifice for waste removal from the human body. The connotation is its application to people who are rude, nasty, evil, etc.

Or bastard. It used to mean a child born out of wedlock - back when the concept of legitimacy was an issue. But in today's world, it has no bearing on anything. Thus the usage of bastard has shifted to mean a creep, a really nasty person, someone who acts horribly.

Bishamon
07-21-2003, 01:08 AM
Or Wanker Draw, a small valley in eastern Wyoming. [/B]

Well, whattya know, I've lived less than 15 miles from this most of my life and I had no idea that it was out there. We just called it Silver Springs. I always knew the folks living out that way were real wankers, but I guess this proves it.

cajela
07-21-2003, 04:28 AM
The Australian use of "wanker" as an insult is definitely a metaphor. A wanker is gratifying no-one but themself - and most inappropriately, in public.

"Wanking", "having a wank" and the like can of course be used as terms for real masturbation - even in a non-derogatory manner. After all, we all do it, except those of us who lie about it :-)

But being a wanker here is not the same thing as being a loser, pathetic or otherwise. It has more annoying self-indulgent pretentiousness in it. There are all kinds of losers; a wanker is a very specific type.

Amethyst
07-21-2003, 12:30 PM
Originally posted by Ranchoth
Well, here'n ol' California, it really isn't a commonly used word at all, and I'd doubt that most people would even know what it means.

...But, on the other hand, it's really not too hard for a casual observer to tell that "wanker" isn't exactly meant as a compliment. I mean, if I said; "Ben Hicks? Ha! What a noodge!" it's still pretty easy to infer that "noodge" is an meant as an insult, even if one doesn't actually know what "noodge" means.

And, oddly enough, my Dictionary of American Slang (3rd edition) lists one of the possible definitions for "wanker" as being "Party Animal." This usage being primarily among "Canadian students" in the 1990s.

Since I graduate from university in Canada in the late 80's, my knowledge of slang could be wrong, but in my circle of friends, a 'wanker' is someone who engages in onanism (and not the coitus interruptus definition of the word)

Irishman
07-21-2003, 06:33 PM
[i]cajela[/b], what do I know, I'm American. ;)

cajela
07-21-2003, 08:24 PM
Hey, irishman, I didn't mean to abruptly contradict you. I thought you were talking about American use (or Irish?). I'm no authority there.

BTW, Cecil doesn't use the word in an Australian way. If someone were to do that it would be more like: "Cecil wanks on about the pleasures of mathematics". The idea of boring intellectual pretentiousness would override any actual masturbation (such as over the image of hot chicks in blue bodypaint) to define which one is the wanker.

(No, I don't actually think Cecil is a wanker, and I deplore this strain of anti-intellectualism. I do not condone, I report.)

Jervoise
07-21-2003, 08:41 PM
As to how offensive the word actually is, well, that depends on whom you ask, or say it in front of. It's fair to compare it to the "F-word," in that it may cause your mum to faint, but may cause scarcely a raised eyebrow amongst the gang at the pub. [/B]This is rubbish. "Bloody" is not comparable to "fuck". It's a very mild intensifier, quite unlikely to raise eyebrows.

"Bloody hell" is permissible in a work environment. "Fucking hell" is less acceptable.

"Wanker" has been used on The Simpsons, incidentally. I was very surprised when I heard it used, never realising that Americans didn't regard the word as taboo.

li'l Dickie Dirtz
07-24-2003, 06:12 PM
So, is calling someone a "snogger" in the UK the same as calling someone a "fucker" in America? Or is it not used like that and just used to denote and connote the act and not the person?

li'l Dickie Dirtz
07-24-2003, 06:23 PM
Whoops, sorry, I meant "shagger," not "snogger." Snog is to kiss.

Dr. Rieux
07-25-2003, 04:30 PM
As any Married With Children fan knows, it's Peggy Bundy's maiden name--and her home county in Wisconsin.
:D

Shade
07-25-2003, 07:37 PM
'Shagger' would mean 'someone who shags' if anything.

'Shag' may be crude but isn't an insult the way 'fuck' is at all.

Neither is 'snogger'

'Bloody' isn't really offensive by itself (eg. 'bloody thing' may denote extreme exasteration, but I wouldn't be overly shocked.) But it acts as an intensifier 'bloody hell' is so much better than 'hell' imho. UKMMV.

chula
07-26-2003, 09:21 PM
Originally posted by antechinus
I asked an american exchange student this same question recently. He was from Chile. He said that a wanker is a "lazy person".:confused: Was he Chilean or American?

Wassup
07-27-2003, 03:15 AM
I thought bloody orgiginated from a more offensive backround, namely it referred to something that happens during a woman's period. Then again, I may be thinking of the Jamaican "boombaclot"(rough spelling) slang word.

And no, 'wanker' is no where near the level of 'cunt' here in America, its basically a meaningless, trying-to-be-amusing kind of kiddin around insult. More on the level of 'wuss,' which is like a watered down, kiddin around version of 'pussy,' and that there's a fightin word, boy howdy :p

Some examples

You: Come on, jump in man! The water's fine!
Your Friend: No way! Its really cold!
You: Dont be such a wuss/wanker.

You: Throw the first punch, or pick up that broken beer bottle, if you got the guts.
Your arch-rival(or something): No way, I'm already on probation!
You: Whatever you say, you pussy/cunt!

Now I may have confused non-Americans with my use of wanker just then. But thats what slang is for. I agree that if you were to use wanker "correctly," it would be to refer to a guy who is self absorbed, egotistical, and/or not caring of others. But it can be used within any context. And to finish this off, thank you for reading my post, you :wally !

aadenny
08-03-2003, 07:41 AM
Slightly off-topic, perhaps, but do they know what the word means in Manhattan?

Ahem - you might be fascinated to know that 'New York USA' is an anagram of 'You wankers'.

Regds
Andrew
(not a New Yorker, you'll probably have guessed!)

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