Certain words and phrases take on meanings because of who uses them. For instance, the noun “moderate” in the political context always means liberal. The only people who ever use it are liberals. All of my “moderate” friends, for example, are conventional liberals, who faithfully line up for the democrat in every race. They always lament the lack of “moderate” republicans. Of course, moderate republicans are always liberal.
In the context of personal health, the word is an adjective for the pests and scolds who think they can tell us how to live. In those cases, “moderate” means self-denial. Moderate drinking means no drinking. Moderate eating means no food you like. The common thread here is that fanatics have run off with a perfectly good word and turned it into a chilling horn blast signaling the arrival of people who reminder you of your ex-wife.
The neologism “wonk” is a favorite word on the Left. They say it means policy expert, but it really means agitprop expert. Ezra Klein is a good example. He repeats the politically acceptable dogma in slightly new ways, which makes him a favorite of the people in the political class. Nothing he has ever written would require critical thinking or knowledge of the subject. He just flatters his fellow Progressives, by telling them what they want to hear.
While in theory, the word “wonk” is supposed to mean a policy expert or perhaps an expert on existing regulations, it almost always means flatterer. A wonk is someone who comes up with clever sounding ways to conform what the political class thinks about something at the moment. Not even the political class really, just the army of camp followers that make up the commentariat. To be a wonk is to never question anything.
A word that has been totally corrupted is “data.” To the people fond of using it in social commentary, the word is a synonym for signs, like the ones a shaman would see in goat entrails. You see it in that Klein piece. “HealthCare.gov is clearly working better. But is it actually working? It depends on how you read the data.” This suggest data itself is meaningless, as what matters is who is reading and, of course, their motivations.
Look at the construction. He declares this thing is better, then suggests it may not be working at all, depending on information that has not been presented. In this case, “data” means “who you ask.” To an empiricist or anyone vaguely familiar with practical mathematics, data is what your mathematical representation of reality has to include in order to meet the minimum test of validity. To Klein, data is a sign to be read.
The dilettante is “a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge.” In this increasingly fraudulent age, the pseudo-intellectual is something of a dilettante, but instead of learning enough to fake it, they make up new language or corrupt the existing language, so they sound smart without having to know anything about the subject. They don’t know anything. They know about things.
Perhaps another way to put it is we live in a meta-era, in that our intellectual class does not know things or even things about things. They are meta-intellectuals, in that they know things about being an intellectual, the clothes, the verbal cues and so forth, but they are not intellectuals nor to they know any. That’s really just a nice way of saying they are fakers, which is why they like fake language. They are as phony as three dollar bills.