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Vail Valley Voices: The difference between yahoos and wonks

David Dillon
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

I tend to have a colorful vocabulary, particularly when venting about stupid or irritating people. I have little patience for either despite an otherwise sunny disposition and genuine love of humanity.

I deeply understand a lot of human weaknesses and faults, but stupid and irritating are right up there with lying, stealing and cruelty to children, animals or the elderly. So if you think I have contempt for people, I don’t. I have contempt for certain kinds of people.

My sister Terry called me recently to ask me about a word she heard me use. She wanted me to define it and distinguish it from another word I use in similar contexts.



“What is a wonk and how is it different from a yahoo?”

I was happy to deconstruct both and explain their current usage.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



The term “yahoo” originated in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” Though it came to generically mean a total jerk, Swift’s Yahoos originally were savage creatures who enjoyed tormenting others and mischievously tossed feces from the trees at those passing by.

The origin of “wonk” is questionable. It could be the koala bear in Muriel Levy’s “The Adventures of Wonk,” some say it means “nerd,” and others believe it is the Americanization of a British slang term this paper probably wouldn’t print. Think Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint.”

In a nutshell: A yahoo invades your life with the intentional desire to annoy you, and a wonk is a stupid sort who annoys you without realizing it.



For example: A yahoo is the guy who drives with his car radio cranked up full blast and his windows open or revs his Harley in a residential neighborhood at 2 a.m. He knows he is irritating others, and that’s the point.

Psychology 101 tells you that these yahoos are text book Freud. These are the guys Sigmund would say are compensating for the lack of certain … attributes. Whether he realizes it or not, each rev of the bike or blast of the radio is really a cry of “There’s nothing down there, so I have to do something so you’ll know I’m a man!”

In these, yahoo overlaps wonk. The yahoo in him intentionally annoys you, but the wonk in him is too stupid to realize he is revealing something he probably doesn’t intend to reveal.

What typifies the wonk is their utter unawareness of the world and people around them. They will insinuate themselves into your daily life and drive you crazy with no recognition whatsoever that they are doing it, creating an intense desire within you to kick them solidly and repeatedly in the head.

I referred to a couple of people recently as dumb wonks, which prompted my sister’s question.

Most notable was the woman in City Market ahead of my mother and me in the checkout line. It was the only line open and there were seven more people behind us. This dumb wonk waited until her entire order had been rung up and the cashier announced her total to even begin the long dig for her checkbook in her purse. Despite the fact that every 21st century checking account now offers quick and easy to use debit cards, this retro wonk was going to write a check and we were going to wait for her.

Eighteen eyes rolled and several exasperated sighs were heard.

Did the wonk considerately prepare by pre-writing the check with everything but the total and having her checkbook and driver’s license ready? No. See, if she had, she wouldn’t be a dumb wonk. A throwback to another century, to be sure, but not a wonk.

She took OUR time to dig out her checkbook and to then carefully write out the date … then “City Market” … then the total in numbers … then in words … and finally her signature.

Whew, that’s done! Ooops … I spoke too soon.

We then had to wait further as she painstakingly entered the check into her check register, folded up her checkbook and carefully replaced it in her purse. Everyone rolled their eyes again and one man behind us asked if we would hold his place in line while he went out to get a bite.

Just when we had all come to from our power naps and thought our ordeal was over, the cashier did the unthinkable. She asked for the wonk’s driver’s license and we all wondered what we had done in our lives to be so punished. Maybe if one of us had burned down an orphanage run by nuns this would be deserved, but really!

By this time, the line had increased by two more people and I heard someone in the back whisper something nasty about a noose.

Back into the purse she went to start the new, long dig for her wallet and, once found, the struggle to free it from its slot began.

So, I shot myself in the head.

All in all, this dumb wonk made 11 people who have lives outside of City Market just stand there while she excruciatingly displayed her complete incompetence for life and her total unawareness and disregard for the inconvenience she was causing others. The wonk’s world is a narrow one in which no one else exists. And there is little hope for them, unfortunately.

Coco Chanel once said, “Sinners can reform, but stupid is forever.”

David Dillon lives in Eagle.


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