Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

'Woke' may be past its prime


December 4, 2019

Are you “woke?”

I keep hearing this word on late-night television, daytime talk shows and especially in commentary about left-of-center candidates for president on the pundit pages that carry the opinions of very smart writers who keep current on everything.

I’ve obviously been asleep for a while, because in its current usage, “woke” has even been defined by Merriam Webster, which means it has been around longer than I thought.

Our favorite dictionary people define it as “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially racial and social justice.)”

I knew it meant something like that, but I’ve never been sure. You don’t hear people in Tucumcari using it in every-day language, unless the kids are using on social media. I would still be one of those guys who comes up to a bunch of kids and asks “What’s the 4-1-1?”

“Woke,” however, went nearly through its whole cycle before I became aware of it.

So I went to the internet to see what I could find about its origins.

It seems to have come from street talk, where it meant aware of your surroundings in a way that helps you stay alive.

The conversation would go something like this:

“I got your back.”

“Thanks, but I’m woke.”

With Black Lives Matter, the word started making its way into discussions of issues involving police and African Americans. It evolved from meaning, “I live in the ’hood, and I’m woke to cops,” to meaning “I’m sympathetic to African Americans and their issues with the police, so I’m woke.”

And now it has evolved into the meaning that Merriam Webster gives it.

Followers of more left-leaning Democratic candidates, and the candidates themselves, are now commonly described as “woke.”

Followers of Donald Trump are not.

I don’t think I’m going to start using it, though.

On a website called UrbanDicitionary.com, I ran across this definition of woke: “The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue.”

This volunteered definition indicates not everyone gives the term the mantle of “cool” any more.

After all, with a Merriam Webster definition, how cool could it be?

The pundits can use it, though, as long as its meaning is clear. After all, their job is to be clear, concise and easy to understand, not cool. “Woke” is still shorthand for a current state of mind, and therefore useful.

As time goes on, “woke” may follow the course of “Got Milk?” — that work of advertising genius that has now become as overdone as Elvis impersonators.

Brainstorming sessions still breed slogans like “Got vector class object constructors?” (Programming terms).

Being woke in Quay County, for example, could come to mean you know whether to harvest hay in rectangular or cylindrical bales, and the difference between alfalfa and triticale when whizzing by them at 80 mph on the Interstate.

I hope I have helped you awaken to the meaning of “woke.” Even if I have not, I’m ready for a nap.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a semi-retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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