David Clemens writes for the Martin Center about the now-prevalent word “woke.”

Many, perhaps most, Americans are just now waking up to the meaning of “woke.” What does “woke” have to do with looting, bricks, fires, and blood in Portland, Seattle, and Minneapolis? One asks oneself, “Am I woke (good)? Or not woke (evil)? How woke is woke, how much wokeness is enough, and who decides?”

In short, woke implies a new state of elevated, more highly evolved moral consciousness. As such, wokeness requires a new vocabulary to express its new concepts.

Woke language is full of terms such as “toxic” (even “catastrophic”) masculinity, “whiteness,” “white privilege,” “white fragility,” countless new pronouns and genders, “systemic racism,” “cancel culture,” “social justice,” “gaslighting,” and “de-platforming,” most of which are casually or arbitrarily defined, if at all.

Wokespeak also includes some old chestnuts from the ‘60s and ‘70s: “white supremacy” (kind of hard to square with the election and re-election of Barack Obama), “off the pigs” (kill the police), “police brutality,” political rants against segregationists like “Bull” Connor and George Wallace, and new complaints about previously sanitized-and-approved commercial images of long-suffering “Aunt Jemima” and “Uncle Ben.”

Moldy slogans from 1965 lend wokeness a gauzy, almost nostalgic atmosphere—but pay heed. One thing wokeness does not tolerate is humor. Another is memory.

Like COVID-19, the emergence and ubiquity of wokeness this year may have seemed sudden, but the Left has been seeding university curriculum with woke terms and concepts for years. Yet, unless you hang out in college lecture halls, you may find yourself struggling with this new political vocabulary. Clearly, we need a guide to help us understand Wokeland. Who better than someone who once was woke but then became an apostate?

Michael Rectenwald is such a guide, a lapsed Marxist and former NYU professor, who gained Twitter fame as “@AntiPCNYUProf.” His latest book, Beyond Woke, collects 22 essays and speeches that help explain this reigning leftwing obsession.