Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Glen asked how the wake of a ship and a wake for a dead person are connected. The short answer: they’re not.

As far as a ship goes, its wake is the smooth track it leaves on the surface of the water as it passes through. That wake came from an Old Norse word that meant a hole or a channel in ice.

In the funeral sense, a wake is connected to the word that means not sleeping. A wake in the original sense was a vigil kept during the night by the deceased’s family and friends. An old joke says that it was to make sure that the S.O.B. didn’t wake up, but it was really a religious observance. This wake came from Germanic/Scandinavian terms that meant a night-watch.

There is a third noun spelled w-a-k-e, and it comes from a completely different source. It is an obsolete name for a North African bird. The name was an attempt to imitate the sound that the bird makes as it flies.

SIDEBAR:  Dies Irae

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