Wake, Wake, Wake

I’ve been milling among the ideas circulating in my mind about what I would concentrate on for my second blog post, and to be honest, it has been slightly disorientating. I believe that I was getting lost in the emotional minefields that kept popping up for me after enduring our continual viewings of When The Levees Broke, similarly to how Erin articulated her feelings on this turbulent documentary in her post. I instead took a step back after today’s class and decided to focus on the word “wake” that Beth brought up as the subject of a potential blog post. What I initially thought was going to be a fairly straight-forward post led me down a new strain of thinkING regarding etymologies and the many varying performances of individual words.

When I first started investigating the etymology of “wake” I thought that there would only be potentially two definitions of the word to be working from, but according to etymonline.com there are actually three working starting points to branch off of.

1) Wake (n.), as in a “track left by a moving ship”. This version of “wake” stems from Middle Low German and Middle Dutch and is also where we get the figurative use of the term, “in the wake of”, meaning “following close behind”. It is this figurative understanding of this term that I believe many of us in the class have heard reiterated in the context of ‘being in the wake of [Hurricane] Katrina’.

2) Wake (n.), as in a “state of wakefulness”. This meaning of the word is mostly referring to ceremonies or vigils that has persisted into present day as being closely associated with funerary traditions as a result of memories from predominantly Irish burial customs. A similar branch that this word comes from is a result of a mid-13th century understanding of “wake” which means, “a sitting up at night with a corpse”. I believe that this definition has a specific relative importance to what Roach has been saying about funerals and closeness to the dead when he states that, “At one time in European tradition, as in many other traditions worldwide, the dead were omnipresent…[and] literally overflowed into the spaces of the living.” (Roach, 48)

3) Wake (v.), as in “to become awake”. The use of “wake” as a verb contrasts to the other two definitions in that it stems from a more vast conglomerate of European origins and has more positive connotations. In this usage of the word it is meant to be understood as “to arise, to be born, and to originate”.

It was with my new knowledge of these three differing denotations that I started to see the significance of examining the multiple performances that we ask of individual pieces of language. In this post alone you could contrast the differing performances of “wake” as 1) something that a water vessel, or even water itself, carves into something, 2) a funerary tradition steeped in the understandings of being in close quarters with the dead, and 3) an act of renewal, whether that be starting a new day or a new life.

I believe that thinkING about this word and slowing it down to almost a glacial pace allowed me to see it in a more complex way, and hopefully this practice has opened up a new door for me to explore other words in this way as well in order to keep me grounded in understanding the both/and associated with nearly anything and everything.

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