19 February 2021

Woke

The English language is forever evolving. It is dynamic and open to change or addition. It always has been and I guess that it always will be. Pick it apart and you will find ingredients from all over the world and from every decade of its long and animated history.

In the last one hundred and fifty years, North America with its economic and cultural power has  been an important driver. "Jazz", "cool", "H-bomb", "far out", "mouse"(computer), "shopping mall",  "dude",  "truck",  "candy", "French fries", "hipster" and  "subway" form  just a small sample of American terms that have been absorbed into British English.

This morning I was investigating the term "woke" which has become a bit of a buzzword  in the last couple of years even though most native English speakers who are middle-aged or older may have little idea what it means and probably never use it.

"Woke" harks back to the nineteenth century when downtrodden black Americans were urged to wake up and be aware of the forces that were pressing them down. If you were "woke" you were less compliant, less blinkered - more aware of your position and the things that stopped you from being who you wanted to be - "free at last".

The word "woke" as used in relation to political awareness hung on through the twentieth century though it did not have much traction. As Wikipedia informed me, it was used in a 1971 in a play about the black political activist Marcus Garvey when one of the characters announces: "I been sleeping all my life. And now that  Mr Garvey done woke me up, I'm gon' stay woke. And I'm gon help him wake up other black folk."

It seems to me that to be "woke" is  essentially a very good thing.  To be informed about politics  and the forces that impact upon people's lives: What's wrong with that? Better than living in ignorance.  Only by knowing can one begin to press for change.

"Woke" gained currency with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. It was as if the word itself had been woken up. Suddenly its usage soared.

However, in the last couple of years, "woke" has attracted negative connotations - like barnacles growing on its underside. To some conservative or reactionary commenters, "woke" people are frequently seen as educated white folk who  are aware and informed of  fashionable world issues such as LGBTQ rights, environmental destruction, racism, corporate greed etc. - like being in a self-satisfied chattering movement that is somehow disconnected from reality. Those who are "woke" are likely to point fingers at others with a holier-than-thou attitude as they live their smug ethical lives in comfortable homes.

In the form to which I am referring here, I cannot say that I have ever used the word "woke" in conversation. It does not sit well with me but what I would say is that it might be nice to chisel away some of those reactionary barnacles and start to reclaim the word. Being "woke" or awake to the issues around us is, as I said before, a  laudable thing. I would rather be "woke" than ignorant and liable to sneering. at those who simply want this world to be a better place.

51 comments:

  1. On the contrary, I see just the opposite thing in my corner of the world. Every conspiracy believing God knower out there believes that they are 'woke'. Usually there is a 'af' added to the woke, but I don't want to quibble. They search the far reaches of the internet to find something that validates their whacked out theories and then they gleefully extoll themselves as 'woke af', that 'they've done their research'. I wrote an letter to the editor once where I pointed out that there is a difference between research and affirmation. Affirmation cherry picks information that supports an opinion. It proves nothing. Research winnows through (and considers) all the information, and if the opinion/hypothesis cannot be proven, it is discarded.

    These people shouting that they're 'woke af'? Most of them aren't.

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    1. Until you brought it up here, I had never heard of the term "woke af". I think I will just go back to sleep af.

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    2. Bahaha sleep af!!!!!

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  2. Very good post YP. Critics have argued that the Labour Party disenfranchised the working class in England with it's "Woke" agenda. What ever happened to CND and Clause 4 Socialism?

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    1. I don't expect to see Labour back in power in my lifetime and I am rather sad about that.

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    2. Not until they remember that Labour means the party for the Labourers YP.

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  3. Debby has some great points.
    As a white woman I would never, ever use the word "woke" to describe myself. I can know a hell of a lot but I can't really KNOW- if you know what I mean.
    Yet another example of a sort of appropriation and this is one that I will not participate in. I respect the term too much.

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    1. It clearly means more to you than to most of the commenters here Mary.

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  4. I am definitely too sleepy to be woke.

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    1. Perhaps a bucket or ice cold water is required.

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  5. Very interesting - like you, Neil, I had never heard of "woke af" until reading Debby's comment.
    "Woke" is now frequently mentioned in German media, although mostly with the slightly negative connotation you have mentioned, as in young privileged white women who have never had to really struggle for anything in their lives consider themselves oh so woke.
    Personally, I thought it was simply a fashionable term, thinking it is not something I would use. Now that I know more about the term's background, I will look at it differently.

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    1. I still find it a slippery term - a bit like a fish. If I use "woke" it won't be with great assuredness.

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  6. What is wrong with the word ‘aware’?

    I never heard of ‘woke af’ either. Where in the world does Debbie live? I remembered to look at her profile and she’s in Pennsylvania, United States. I am stunned.

    In the South, ‘woke’ and ‘snowflake’ are practically synonymous. Neither is meant to be a compliment.

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    1. I wonder how long you have been aware of the term "woke" Bob?

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    2. Three or four years, at the very least.

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    3. Now that is fascinating, Bob. Just goes to show that if it can be twisted to insult, it will be. I live in nw pennsylvania. Oil country. Trump country. Covid is a hoax country.

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  7. Ach, away with your Virtue Signalling, Yorky. Just get yourself out on the Shivering Mountain. The third week in February is said to be the return of the light, according to poet Kathleen Jamie.

    Ye don't have any reactionary barnacles, some young cultural Marxist Maoist has been fcuking with your head.

    *Douglas Murray/ Wokeness: the new Western morality.*
    John Anderson. 8 July 2020. YouTube.

    J.K. Rowling has been cancelled by a shower of young nitwits. They don't need the guillotine, they just anathematise anyone who challenges their puerile world-view. Jordan Peterson was stopped from lecturing in Cambridge because the young Left Fascists objected to his ideas. And Dr Peterson is a classical liberal.

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    1. Yes I would say that Ms Rowling has been a victim of the "woke" cult

      I guess you have many barnacles on your hull John. Vigorous scrubbing with "Domestos" should release most of them then you can sail away to the sunset over Dunoon singing:-
      I love a lassie, a bonnie Hielan' lassie,
      If you saw her you would fancy her as well:
      I met her in September, popped the question in November,
      So I'll soon be havin' her a' to ma-sel'.

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    2. Never eaten a barnacle, but moules mariniere with frites, are succulent on the Emerald Coast of Brittany. With a bottle of Normandy cider.
      Or fish and chips in Dunoon?
      I had a farewell fish tea in Helensburgh, with a lady from Estonia who lived here for a time. Off she went to Berlin and met a rich retired lawyer, ten years my senior. She wanted me to come out and meet him, I declined.

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    3. How terribly unsporting old chap! If you had been an Old Etonian you would have wrestled the old lawyer for the hand of the fair Baltic maiden before kicking him in the goolies - "Take that Jimmy!"

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    4. Take care YP. As I commented elsewhere, I wouldn't rate your chances:
      https://caledoniantkd.com/john-haggerty-coach-profile/
      Wednesday Taekwondo session, 6pm with John Haggerty.

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    5. Taekwondo is the Won Ton which I love to eat on Saturday nights with a small glass of German lager and Dusty Springfield beside me.
      Strange thing is, I can't sign in as Hameldaeme any more, so I set up a new nom de plume. John Hamealane. Only it comes up as Anonymous.

      I loved what Ursula wrote, *Let's assume Hamel(d) really was Hameld(d).*
      I laughed myself silly at that and I miss Ursula the way you miss someone you'll never meet. A cyberland amitie? I can dream, can't I?

      On a darker note, I just watched a 2011 film by Adam Shaw, son of Irwin Shaw the great American writer. As a pilot Adam challenged the 9/11 narrative.
      *Adam Shaw instructor/ Airshow Pilot Questions 9/11 scenario.* Aldwin.
      June 28 2011. YouTube.

      *Dan Schneider Interview #79 : On Irwin Shaw.* YouTube.
      Adam talks about his father.

      Haggerty. Hamel(d). Hamealane.

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    6. I checked out the taekwondo link and indeed there is a Scottish master called John Haggerty. There are other John Haggertys around the world. Did you all arrive on the same interplanetary spaceship? "We come in peace"...one hopes.

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    7. John Le Carre's 1990 novel The Secret Pilgrim has a Haggerty who runs the Berlin Station. Haggerty is a Germanist, but comes from a staunch Protestant Ulster family.
      There is a play by David Mercer, After Haggerty. This Haggerty, like Godot, never actually appears. This Haggerty is a Commie.
      Mercer was born in Wakefield in 1928 and was a friend and exact contemporary of Stan Barstow.
      David Mercer died in Israel in 1980.

      Hameldaeme by any other name.



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    8. David Mercer was clearly thinking of you. Stan must have described you to him. There were, as you well know, a lot of commies on Clydeside.

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    9. My father said the Communists were always behind you in a strike, but they then went off to their internal meetings, where no doubt they were told what to do by Harry Pollitt (1890-1960) who ran the Trades Union wing of the Party.

      In my teens I planned to write a sprawling novel that would feature the two great socialists of Continental Europe, August Bebel (1840-1913) and Jean Jaures (1859-1914) who quarrelled fiercely in their ideas.
      Emile Zola was my model and master, and as a teenage atheist I looked to the works of William Hale White (1831-1913) author of Mark Rutherford and Mark Rutherford's Deliverance, books I still enjoy.

      White's atheism was so stark I turned to Hilaire Belloc, who fought with the French artillery in the First World War, and coined the dictum, *The faith is Europe, Europe is the faith.* Then I read GK Chesterton.

      Watch: Talking in the Library. Clive James interviews Piers Paul Read, who grew up in Yorkshire. YouTube.
      Haggerty at Hame on the Sabbath.

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  8. There are several new words that have recently crept into common usage in British English that I just cannot see myself using. They just sound wrong to me, but then I am perhaps a dinosaur when it comes to language.

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    1. I know what you mean JayCee. New-fangled words like "television", "milkshake" and "spaghetti". Why can't we just stick with the old words?

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    2. What are the old words for “television “, “milkshake” and “spaghetti” anyway?

      I remember eating a meal of spaghetti and typical tomato-based red sauce at the Florida home of some thoroughly Italian-Americans (they were from New Jersey, how Italian can you get?) and they referred to what we were eating as “noodles and gravy”....

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    3. Forsooth thou art no fool YP

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    4. Forsooth indeed!
      "television" = devil chamber
      "milkshake" = bovine broth
      "spaghetti" = long latino worms

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  9. Well said, ignorance isn´t bliss. I´d rather be woke too.

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  10. I object to the word purely on grammatical grounds. "I am woke" does not sit well with me. It should be "I have woken" or "I woke or "I am awake". It is a verb not an adjective. It is yet another buzz word that really doesn't say a lot at all. As you say, there seems to be a lot of holier-than-thou sneering from those who are "woke". I think everyone just needs to be a lot kinder to one another, whoever they are. Maybe I am just naive.

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    1. No ADDY, you seem woke to me but in a good way.

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  11. Conservatives have a history of twisting words until they develop negative connotations. "Liberal" is the classic example. To be a liberal is a GOOD thing -- a force for justice and equality and, yes, freedom for all. But conservatives have done their best to turn it into a dirty word and in many places and contexts, to be called a "liberal" is meant as an insult. (I wear my liberal badge proudly.)

    I had no idea "woke" had such history -- I thought it was a term of relatively recent vintage. "Politically correct" is what we used to say about progressive ideals and thought, but then THAT phrase got negativized (is that a word?) as well.

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    1. Interesting reflections on the term "liberal" Steve. It does help to illuminate what has been happening to "woke".

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    2. Amen to all of that, Steve

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  12. I've never heard woke used like that so I guess I need to be woke up. Thanks for telling us about woke.

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    1. I think you will begin to notice this word after reading my post.

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  13. I have only been aware of it as an insult used by those of a Right persuasion. It's not a word I am likely to use but am likely to ignore.

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    1. Perhaps it has become a fad word that will soon retreat into relative obscurity.

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  14. I've wondered about this word and its context as it made no sense at all to me. Now I know and I thank you.

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    1. Glad you appreciated my research Andrew.

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  15. I don’t think it originated with the Right. I think the Left on college campuses (led by whom?) came up with it to describe themselves as being open to all “progressive” philosophies (women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ community, reparations for slavery, open borders, you name it) and proudly proclaimed themselves “woke” and therefore occupying the moral high ground. Righties opposed to all that the Lefties embraced then began using it as a pejorative against the Lefties who had originated it themselves.

    If I am completely mistaken, I hope someone will correct me.

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    1. I deduce that you are in the correct zone of the lexical ball park Bob.

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  16. Being alive to the world around you is a good description of woke. I have problems, skating around subjects I know little of and words that suddenly fly from my fingers and which I have to look up. Interesting the way you have approached it, makes one think, though sometimes one get's tired of thinking!

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    1. Thinking can certainly be a torment but it is so hard to avoid.

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  17. No, never heard of woke used in that way, nor woke af! Can only agree with Addy's comments, and her reasoning.
    If I were ever to return to the UK, I think I would have to learn a completely new language. So many new words and phrases have crept into everyday usage, and I have no idea what most of them mean, or how they should be used.
    As a retired English teacher YP, you must despair at times! How long before the English language, as we know it, completely disappears?

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    1. I expect evolution but not slovenliness. When did you first start living in Spain CG?

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    2. We had a holiday home for a few years, then moved here permanently, with our two dogs, in November 1999.

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