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Getting the word out

Too late to learn new things? Never!

I love words. I keep a special spiral notebook of words new to me. Once, of course, I’ve looked up their meaning so both can be recorded together.

Many words appear once and then disappear. The New Yorker seemed to enjoy making up (well, I couldn’t find them) words. It was fun to try to decipher the meanings.

Those I should have known have been added to my vocabulary. Most, however, remains on the far edges of what we’d normally use.

How are you all with “woke”? Not as a past tense of wake but as an adjective. It’s one I hadn’t read (or heard) until earlier this year when it began to pop up all over the place.

“Woke” is different for contemporary magazines seem to be using it often. It is generally an adjective, that much I can deduce.

I don’t think I’d seen the word until TIME May 13, 2019 used it to review a new television show, “Broad City,” which I’ll never watch: “It’s a fun, watchable show, though its obsession with woke relevance eventually starts to grate.”

Or this, again from TIME, June 17, 2019: “Katherine is a dinosaur who needs a woke, youthful guide to illuminate the blind spots that come with her age, race and privilege.”

My dictionary, probably almost as old as I, only defines it as “past and past part of wake.” That we knew.

But this is now. Bloomberg Businessweek, August 19, 2019: To set Unilever apart and combat what (chief executive officer Alan) Jobe calls “woke-washing” — the social responsibility equivalent of bogus “greenwashing” campaigns aimed at appearing environmentally conscious — he’s raising the volume on the message. . .“We are committed to all our brands having a purpose.”

From NPR: “According to Merriam-Webster, woke means, “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”

According to this source, the word can most closely be tied to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

And yet the word was used in a famous essay published in the New York Times in 1962, “If You’re Woke You Dig It.” Others claim they can trace the word back to the 1940s.

Let me quote now from an article “Staying Woke,” by Akaya published by the Rockwood Leadership Institute. “‘Stay woke’ is an expression in my community that means to not go into denial or sleep when stuff is going down; to pay attention to what’s really going on. It is powerful language that interrupts the collective somnambulance supported and manufactured by our mainstream media and corporate advertising.

“Staying woke doesn’t necessarily mean we need to DO anything; it means we refuse to turn away from what is in front of us. As an example, I might not be able to end homelessness, but I can commit to actually seeing people on the street, to saying ‘good morning,’ and refusing to make them invisible.”

urbanDictionary has this definition: The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue. “Yeah most people don’t care about parking spaces for disabled pets. I wish they were woke like me.”

Personally, I question what value there is in such wokeness.

Jumping back again to William Melvin Kelley in the New York Times who argues that the origins of this word became shorthand for a worldview that Black Lives Matter. But, he continues, once words that used to define a certain aspect of blackness like “cats” or “dig it” were adopted by the white mainstream, they were “officially done.”

Nothing has really changed for “no matter how well-intentioned, when Jill Stein and the cast of Will & Grace are name-checking the term, ironically or not, it’s no longer anything new.”

Well, we woke woke up. Perhaps it’s time to put it back to sleep again.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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