Wanker is a pejorative term of English origin, common in Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and British-influenced territories like South Africa. It initially referred to "one who masturbates" but has since become a general insult. It is synonymous with tosser.


"Wanker" literally means "one who wanks (masturbates)". It is normally intended as a general insult rather than as an accusation. It conveys contempt, not commentary on sexual habits. "Wanker" has similar meanings and overtones to American pejoratives like "jerk", [Etherington, Mike: [http://www.effingpot.com/slang.shtml The very Best of British The American's guide to speaking British] ] "jerk-off", and "prick". One particular connotation is of someone self-obsessed or a "show-off" (usually male). [Ludowyk, Frederick: [http://www.anu.edu.au/andc/ozwords/April%202001/Swearing.html Anatomy of Swearing] ]

The term "wanker" originated from British slang in the 1940s, based on the verb "wank". [ [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=wanker Online Etymology Dictionary] ]

By the 1970s, the general meaning of "wanker" had shifted from its literal origin (as a masturbator) to that of a generic insult; [ [http://www.anu.edu.au/andc/ozwords/April%202001/Swearing.html Broader use of term esp. Aus] ] for example, "a contemptible person". This shift in usage is comparable with that of "dick", "arse" or "jerk".

The word has developed a metaphorical usage, in which to "wank" or to be a "wanker" implies egotistical and self-indulgent behaviour. This is the dominant meaning in Australia. [ [http://www.anu.edu.au/andc/ozwords/April%202001/Swearing.html Broader use of term esp. Aus] ]

It is also used as a more general insult. This meaning is used in phrases like "smug wanker", "egotistical wanker" or "pretentious wanker". [ [http://au.geocities.com/austlingsoc/proceedings/als2003/stollznow.pdf Whinger ] ] Wanker is sometimes used to refer to a person in the same way as "snob" for subjects perceived as pretentious; for instance, "wine wanker, fashion wanker, car wanker". [ [http://au.geocities.com/austlingsoc/proceedings/als2003/stollznow.pdf Whinger ] ] This meaning is shown in "Whatareya?", a song by TISM, which contrasts "yobs" (uncouth working class) to "wankers" (which according to the context means pretentious intellectuals). In the United States the current usage of the term is more in reference to the person being an idiot or moron, as opposed to the standard dick or jerk synonym in other countries.

"Wanker" may be indicated by a one-handed gesture [How to make a [http://jeroenarendsen.nl/2007/07/gesture-wellformedness/ Wanker gesture] and how not to make it] , usually to an audience out of hearing range. [Etherington, Mike: [http://www.effingpot.com/slang.shtml The very Best of British The American's guide to speaking British] ] It is shown by curling the fingers of the hand into a loose fist and moving the hand back and forth to mime male masturbation. This is equivalent to saying, " [you are a] wanker". Some motorists show the wanking gesture in front of the rear-view mirror, where other motorists from behind can see the gesture.

"Wanker" is the centre of a popular story regarding the British television quiz show "Countdown" in which contestants have to form the longest word possible from nine randomly selected letters. On one occasion the letters permitted the spelling of 'wanker' (or 'wankers') and both contestants replied with the word, leading one to quip "we've got a pair of wankers." The sequence was edited out of the show (as is common with risqué words, although the spelling of "erection" was permitted) but has been shown as an outtake on other shows. [snopes.com: [http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/countdwn.htm Countdown] ] However on a later occasion, 'wanker' was offered, and this instance was left in and broadcast unedited.

"The Winker's Song (Misprint)" by Ivor Biggun is one of many songs about masturbation. It describes the singer: "I'm a wanker, I'm a wanker. And it does me good like it bloody well should." It reached number 22 in the UK charts. It was banned by BBC Radio 1. [ [http://www.yearsofgold.org.uk/1978WEEK43OCT28.htm yearsofgold.org.uk] ]

Wanker in other contexts

Wanker is also a German surname; according to the 1990 census, "Wanker" is the 53,492nd most common surname in the United States. [ [http://www.census.gov/genealogy/names/ 1990 US Census] ] Several American TV shows have used this surname. The sitcom "Married... with Children" featured a character whose maiden name was Wanker, who was from a fictitious Wanker county in Wisconsin.

An episode of the U.S. comedy "Mork & Mindy" featured a character called Arnold Wanker and led to severe editing when the commercial network ITV originally broadcast it in Britain; when the more liberal Channel Four rebroadcast it some years later, it was aired unedited. An inept stuntman in the Australian "Paul Hogan Show" was called Leo Wanker, a double entendre playing on a local impression of Leo (the Starsign) – egotistical and self-indulgent, with the equivalent in the Australian sense of a Wanker – self-indulgent and egotistical.

Wanker can also have other meanings, depending on context. Some American college students have used it as a slang term for penis. This usage implies that the purpose of the penis is for masturbation. [Cameron, Deborah 'Naming of Parts: Gender, Culture, and Terms for the Penis among American College Students' in "American Speech Vol. 67, No. 4" p372]

There is a community in Oregon called Wanker's Corner; here, "Wanker" is believed to be the surname of a saloonkeeper who founded an epynomous establishment there in the early 20th century.

Austrian film and television composer Thomas Wanker, who wrote music for films such as "The Day After Tomorrow" and "10,000 B.C.", and TV shows such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", has recentlywhen? begun crediting himself as "Thomas Wander" in order to distance himself from his name's English-language connotations.Fact|date=July 2008


In December 2000, the Advertising Standards Authority published research on attitudes of the British public to pejoratives. It ranked "wanker" as the fourth most severe pejorative in English. [cite web | title=Delete expletives?|work=Advertising Standards Authority| url=http://www.asa.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/1EAEACA7-8322-4C86-AAC2-4261551F57FE/0/ASA_Delete_Expletives_Dec_2000.pdf| accessdate=January 6 | accessyear=2007 (pdf)] The BBC describes it as 'moderately offensive' and 'almost certain' to generate complaints if used before the watershed. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/advice/offensivelanguage/index.shtml BBC - Editorial guidelines, definition of offensive language] (accessed 2007-01-20)] In Australia it is considered mildly offensive but is widely accepted and used in the media. [ [http://au.geocities.com/austlingsoc/proceedings/als2003/stollznow.pdf Whinger ] ]

An American etymologist describes 'wanker' as "somewhat more offensive in British use than Americans typically realize". [Citation
last = Cresswell
first = Mary
title = Word Of The Day: November 19, 1996
] The word was used twice to comic effect in the "Simpsons" episode "Trash of the Titans", which caused no offence to American audiences, but prompted complaints on occasions when the episode was broadcast unedited in the United Kingdom.


Further reading

* Karen Stollznow, 2004, "Whinger! Wowser! Wanker! Aussie English: Deprecatory language and the Australian ethos" in Christo Moskovsky (ed), "Proceedings of the 2003 Conference of the Australian Linguistic Society" [ [http://au.geocities.com/austlingsoc/proceedings/als2003/stollznow.pdf Whinger ] ]
* Jenny Cheshire, 1991, "English Around the World: sociolinguistic perspectives", Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521395658.
* Tony McEnery, 2005, "Swearing in English: Bad Language, Purity and Power from 1586 to the Present", Routledge, ISBN 0415258375.
* Etymology online [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=wanker&searchmode=none]
* 19 November 1996. "Wanker." The Mavens' Word of the Day. Random House, Inc. [http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19961119]
* [http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/Wanker Websters Online Dictionary: Wanker]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Wanker — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Erich Wanker (* 1965), österreichischer Biotechnologe Ferdinand Geminian Wanker (1758–1824), deutscher Theologe und designierter Erzbischof von Freiburg Michael Wanker (* 1976), deutscher Schauspieler und… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Wanker — Wanker, Ferd. Geminian, Theologe, geb. 1758 zu Freiburg i. B., Priester 1782, wurde Professor der Moral an der Universität seiner Vaterstadt, vom Klerus alsdann 1824 als der würdigste zum ersten Erzbischof der neu errichteten Erzdiöcese Freiburg… …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • wanker — 1940s, masturbator, British slang, from WANK (Cf. wank) to masturbate, of unknown origin. General sense of contemptible person is attested from 1972. Cf. sense evolution of JERK (Cf. jerk) (n.) …   Etymology dictionary

  • wanker — ► NOUN Brit. vulgar slang ▪ a stupid or contemptible person …   English terms dictionary

  • wanker — [waŋ′ker] n. [Vulgar Slang, Chiefly Brit.] Chiefly Brit. Vulgar Slang 1. literally a person who masturbates 2. a person variously regarded as contemptible, ineffectual, etc …   English World dictionary

  • wanker — UK [ˈwæŋkə(r)] / US [ˈwæŋkər] noun [countable] Word forms wanker : singular wanker plural wankers British offensive a stupid or unpleasant person …   English dictionary

  • Wanker — This is a derogatory term used to describe someone who is a bit of a jerk. It actually means someone who masturbates and also has a hand signal that can be done with one hand at people that cannot see you shouting wanker at them. This is… …   The American's guide to speaking British

  • wanker — [[t]wæ̱ŋkə(r)[/t]] wankers N COUNT (disapproval) If someone calls a man a wanker, they do not like him and they think he is very stupid or unpleasant. [BRIT, VERY RUDE] …   English dictionary

  • wanker — • an old English word that is a very common term of abuse. A wanker is an idiot or an unpleasant person. From 19th century Yorkshire dialect meaning idiot …   Londonisms dictionary

  • wanker —    The hero of Jake’s Thing, by Kingsley Amis, is subjected to this insult and soon afterwards says to a colleague:    ‘Damon, what’s a wanker?’    ‘These days a waster, a shirker, someone who’s fixed himself a soft job or an exalted position by… …   A dictionary of epithets and terms of address

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.