Dewonkify – Wonk

The Word:  Wonk

The Meaning: An expert or someone steeped in the details of a particular issue area or field, e.g. policy wonk.   Sometimes used as a compliment (“She’s a real health policy wonk”) and sometimes used as an insult to suggest someone is a nerd (“I would never date such a wonk”).

Used in a Sentence: “The Bully vs. The Wonk

What it Means: Washington, DC is filled with wonks - people with deep expertise in specific policy issues, who sometimes speak in a vernacular often not understood by people outside the Beltway.  Hence, the need for this column – to “dewonkify” words!

History: According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary the word first appeared in 1954.

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Ilisa Halpern Paul

About Ilisa Halpern Paul

Ilisa Halpern Paul leads the District Policy Group and has more than 20 years of experience in government relations, advocacy, and policymaking in non-profit, academic, federally-funded, and government settings. Ilisa’s practice centers on advising clients with respect to advancing their federal legislative, regulatory and programmatic policy agendas. Ilisa works with clients to establish and strengthen relationships with elected officials and federal agencies, develop and implement government relations and advocacy programs, craft effective grassroots campaigns, establish coalitions and third-party stakeholder partnerships, and affect the outcomes of appropriations measures, authorizing legislation and federal regulatory actions. Ilisa is particularly skilled in creating innovative messaging, tactics, and materials in support of her clients’ policy goals. She helps her clients by bringing traditional and nontraditional partners to the table in support of common goals, fostering relationships with members of Congress and their staff, and collaborating with the administration and federal agencies. Ilisa frequently speaks at meetings and briefings providing political insight and analysis to help clients navigate the current policy environment. Ilisa previously served as director of federal government relations for the American Cancer Society and as director of federal affairs with the American Public Health Association. Ilisa worked on the legislative staff for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). She earned a bachelor’s degree in English at UCLA and a master's of public policy degree from Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. Originally from California, Ilisa planned to become a doctor, but found her health care niche after doing a policy internship in D.C. Ilisa lives with her husband, Scott, and their twin boys in Silver Spring, Maryland, where she is currently learning to play the drums.

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