As I noted in the UK-to-US WotY post, this hasn't been a particularly 'big' year for American imports to Britain. Those that were nominated were mostly things that were not clearly American before they were British; that is (in many cases), though an American may have been first to use them, they immediately entered general English. Other nominations didn't seem to have anything particularly "2012" about them--they'd been steadily climbing in BrE for 10 or 20 years, with no particular notice or peak in 2012. But one nomination, by reader Joe, stood out for me. Ladies and germs, the 2012 US-to-UK Word of the Year is
That the newspaper had to provide a footnote translation of wonk (using another Americanism that's come into BrE, geek) is evidence of its relative newness in BrE.*
...as in policy wonk. I'll let Joe's nomination start the talking:
My nomination for AmE to BrE WOTY is "Wonk" as in "Policy Wonk".
Google searches of pages from the UK show a number of examples, and Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries online both list the AmE sense of the word (the Oxford also has the British Naval slang sense).
The clincher for me though was to hear “(Policy) Wonk” used on BBC Radio 4 by Jane Garvey during the 12 November broadcast of “Woman’s Hour” in a segment where she was debating “who are the women who matter in UK politics?” with Allegra Stratton, the political editor of BBC Two’s “Newsnight”. If it's on "Woman's Hour", surely that's a sign it's moving out from the "Chattering Classes / West Wing fans" and into the mainstream?
The American Heritage entry for wonk marks it as slang and defines it as:
1. A student who studies excessively; a grind.2. One who studies an issue or a topic thoroughly or excessively
I have not seen the first meaning in BrE, which has its equivalent in the BrE noun swot. It's the second meaning that has been imported (showing once again that borrowings from one language/dialect to another are rarely "complete" or "faithful").
In addition to Joe's noticing it on Woman's Hour, the thing that makes this a word for 2012 is the fact that Ed Miliband (the leader of the Labour Party) flew his wonk flag at the Labour Party Conference:
Wonk's entry into BrE is complicated a bit by the BrE word wonky (which is currently making inroads in AmE), which means 'unsteady; apt to malfunction; not quite right'. But that doesn't seem to be holding it back. Hail to the wonks! And to wonk!
* This recency is not necessarily the picture you'll get if you try to find evidence of wonk's use in BrE. Collins English Dictionary doesn't bother marking wonk as AmE and includes two Sunday Times examples from 2002. Other early examples seem more tricky to identify as BrE. There's one policy wonk in the British National Corpus, way back in 1990, but it's from The Economist, in an article about US politics--so it was probably written by someone in the US, and perhaps someone American. Google Ngram viewer shows an increase in policy wonk in "British English" books since the 1990s, but click on the link to the books, and you'll find that most seem to be American books by American authors, including the Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang (by Grant Barrett) and a collection of William Safire's 'On Language' columns from the New York Times Magazine. I've said before that Google Ngram Viewer is not to be trusted as a source on AmE/BrE differences, and I feel the need to say it again: Google Ngram Viewer is bad at identifying American English versus British English, even though it gives you the option of choosing between them. Lastly, when I do a custom search on plain old Google, searching for the word on sites last updated in a particular period, it doesn't given me the number of hits, for some reason. (What's up with that, Google?)