There are some words, phrases, sayings, expressions which suddenly seem really popular, and seem to have sprung from nowhere. Some of these words have actually been round for a long time but just an idiolect of different groups of people. Such a word is ‘woke’ which I recently became aware of in our newspaper. I had to ask my daughter what it meant because it definitely wasn’t the past tense of the verb ‘wake’. It often causes amusement when a particular word used by a particular group is taken up by others – particularly if the others are different generation or group. When i was at school the Beatles, coming from Liverpool, used the word ‘gear’ meaning great. Our English teacher used it for some reason in its normal meaning of equipment and the whole class erupted in laughter and dear Mrs Johnson kept asking ”but why is it funny” and none of us could make a sensible answer.
Woke as the past tense of wake is irregular – most verbs ending in ‘ake’ have the usual ‘d’ ending – bake, fake, rake, flake, quake, shake, slake, snake, stake… and then there is ‘wake’ which becomes’woke. ‘Woke’ in the modern sentence means being aware and alert to social and particularly racial injustice and it comes from African-American use of the term. Its political sense has been used since the 1960’s but it has only recently in the last few years become more mainstream. However there are thoughts that white people using the term is cultural appropriation. Having read it frequently in the press recently, I actually heard it used a couple of times on the radio this morning in a programme reviewing the Edinburgh Festival and all the people, interviewer or interviewees were white, so is the word destined to become totally mainstream and lose its original sense?