Wanker is a pejorative
Pejoratives , including name slurs, are words or grammatical forms that connote negativity and express contempt or distaste. A term can be regarded as pejorative in some social groups but not in others, e.g., hacker is a term used for computer criminals as well as quick and clever computer experts...

 term of English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 origin, common in Commonwealth
Commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good. Historically, it has sometimes been synonymous with "republic."More recently it has been used for fraternal associations of some sovereign nations...

 and ex-Commonwealth countries, including Britain, Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

, Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, and South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

. It initially referred to an onanist but has since become a general insult. It is synonym
Synonyms are different words with almost identical or similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek syn and onoma . The words car and automobile are synonyms...

ous with tosser
Tosser may refer to:* wanker, UK slang for masturbater* an echomail processing program in FidoNet...



The term wanker originated from British slang
Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker's language or dialect but are considered more acceptable when used socially. Slang is often to be found in areas of the lexicon that refer to things considered taboo...

 in the 1940s. Wanker literally means "one who wanks (masturbates
Masturbation refers to sexual stimulation of a person's own genitals, usually to the point of orgasm. The stimulation can be performed manually, by use of objects or tools, or by some combination of these methods. Masturbation is a common form of autoeroticism...

)". In modern usage it is usually a general insult. It conveys contempt, not commentary on sexual habits. Wanker has similar meanings and overtones to American pejoratives like jerk(-off). One connotation, implying egotistical and self-indulgent
Selfishness denotes an excessive or exclusive concern with oneself, and as such it exceeds mere self interest or self concern. Insofar as a decision maker knowingly burdens or harms others for personal gain, the decision is selfish. In contrast, self-interest is more general...

 behaviour (and more analogous to American douche(bag)), is the dominant meaning in Australia and New Zealand.

Wanker may be indicated by a one-handed gesture, usually to an audience out of hearing range. 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, which is equivalent to saying, "[you are a] wanker".

In the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, the term is understood, but seldom used, and then more in a way suggesting the target is an idiot or moron.

Differences in perceived levels of offensiveness

In December 2000, the Advertising Standards Authority
Advertising Standards Authority (United Kingdom)
The Advertising Standards Authority is the self-regulatory organisation of the advertising industry in the United Kingdom. The ASA is a non-statutory organisation and so cannot interpret or enforce legislation. However, its code of advertising practice broadly reflects legislation in many instances...

 published research on attitudes of the British public to pejoratives. It ranked wanker as the fourth most severe pejorative in English. The BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 describes it as 'moderately offensive' and 'almost certain' to generate complaints if used before the watershed
Watershed (television)
In television, the term watershed denotes the time period in a television schedule during which programs with adult content can air....


In Australia it is considered mildly offensive but is widely accepted and used in the media.

Mary Cresswell, an American etymologist, describes 'wanker' as "somewhat more offensive in British use than Americans typically realize". The word was used twice to comic effect in the Simpsons episode "Trash of the Titans
Trash of the Titans
"Trash of the Titans" is the 22nd episode of The Simpsons ninth season and the 200th overall. It originally aired on the Fox network on April 26, 1998...

", which caused no offence to American audiences, but prompted complaints on occasions when the episode was broadcast unedited in the United Kingdom.

Popular culture

"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", and it reached number 22 in the 1978 UK charts
UK Singles Chart
The UK Singles Chart is compiled by The Official Charts Company on behalf of the British record-industry. The full chart contains the top selling 200 singles in the United Kingdom based upon combined record sales and download numbers, though some media outlets only list the Top 40 or the Top 75 ...

. It was banned by BBC Radio 1
BBC Radio 1
BBC Radio 1 is a British national radio station operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation which also broadcasts internationally, specialising in current popular music and chart hits throughout the day. Radio 1 provides alternative genres after 7:00pm including electronic dance, hip hop, rock...


Phil Collins
Phil Collins
Philip David Charles "Phil" Collins, LVO is an English singer-songwriter, drummer, pianist and actor best known as a drummer and vocalist for British progressive rock group Genesis and as a solo artist....

 used the word in his 1984 cameo appearance on Miami Vice
Miami Vice
Miami Vice is an American television series produced by Michael Mann for NBC. The series starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as two Metro-Dade Police Department detectives working undercover in Miami. It ran for five seasons on NBC from 1984–1989...

and has sometimes been credited with introducing the word to America.

On the British television quiz show Countdown
Countdown (game show)
Countdown is a British game show involving word and number puzzles. It is produced by ITV Studios and broadcast on Channel 4. It is presented by Jeff Stelling, assisted by Rachel Riley, with regular lexicographer Susie Dent. It was the first programme to be aired on Channel 4, and over sixty-five...

, 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), but has been shown as an outtake on other shows. However, on a later occasion, 'wanker' was offered, and this instance was left in and broadcast unedited.

In the PC game Team fortress 2
Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2 is a free-to-play team-based first-person shooter multiplayer video game developed by Valve Corporation. A sequel to the original mod Team Fortress based on the Quake engine, it was first released as part of the video game compilation The Orange Box on October 10, 2007 for Windows...

 the sniper, being of Australian descent, often uses the word wanker in taunts such as "Thanks for standing still, wanker."

The comedy show Mork & Mindy featured a character called 'Mr Wanker' who was Mindy's landlord. This was broadcast on American TV and later British TV.

In February 2009, Bono
Paul David Hewson , most commonly known by his stage name Bono , is an Irish singer, musician, and humanitarian best known for being the main vocalist of the Dublin-based rock band U2. Bono was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and attended Mount Temple Comprehensive School where he met his...

 called Chris Martin
Chris Martin
Christopher Anthony John "Chris" Martin is an English song-writer, who is the lead vocalist, pianist and rhythm guitarist of the band Coldplay. He is married to actress Gwyneth Paltrow.-Early life:...

 a wanker live on air during Jo Whiley
Jo Whiley
Johanne "Jo" Whiley is a British radio disc jockey and television presenter. She was the host of the long running weekday Jo Whiley Show on Radio 1.-Early life and education:...

's Radio 1
BBC Radio 1
BBC Radio 1 is a British national radio station operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation which also broadcasts internationally, specialising in current popular music and chart hits throughout the day. Radio 1 provides alternative genres after 7:00pm including electronic dance, hip hop, rock...


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
  • Jenny Cheshire, 1991, English Around the World: sociolinguistic perspectives, Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

    , ISBN 0-521-39565-8.
  • Tony McEnery, 2005, Swearing in English: Bad Language, Purity and Power from 1586 to the Present, Routledge
    Routledge is a British publishing house which has operated under a succession of company names and latterly as an academic imprint. Its origins may be traced back to the 19th-century London bookseller George Routledge...

    , ISBN 0-415-25837-5.
  • Etymology online
  • "Wanker" The Mavens' Word of the Day, 19 November 1996. Random House, Inc.
  • Websters Online Dictionary: Wanker
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