Opinion: Language lineage


It seems that we humans like to distinguish ourselves from other, slightly older humans in a multitude of ways. We wear different kinds of clothes. We eat different kinds of foods. We listen to different kinds of music. And, we each hang on different, and supposedly much cooler, words. Sure, there is some overlap. Society would cease to function if each successive generation were to completely reinvent our civilization. Still, in the eternal wrangling for dominance between the three or four distinct generations that populate this planet at any given time, we sometimes use language not to advance clear communication but as a weapon to exclude and maybe even to shame folks with whom we’ve not shared the hipster decoder ring.

To be on the inside of any group gives us a sense of belonging and power. OK. We have called ourselves tuned-in. We have called ourselves hip. We have called ourselves woke. At each of these junctures in history, someone, generally an older human, would clumsily assume hip to be a body part and tuned-in to be something one might do on a tube radio. We planned to accomplish just that outcome. It gives us a chance to sneer at the wisdom accumulated by years on the planet. It gives us the illusion of some snarky superiority: “Ha, I can’t believe that you are not with it.”

Such is the lineage behind the ministers of “wokeness.” To be woke is alleged to be alert to injustice, especially to race. Good, we could all stand to improve. Yet, woke, like much of this kind of jargon, scolds even as it is vaunted as transcendental. Can we hope to awaken to a better understanding of ourselves and each other if our lingo makes it clear that there are insiders and outsiders?