Adventures in Etymology – Wicker

In this Adventure we’re unravelling the origins of the word wicker.

Four little baskets sitting on a wall
Wicker [ˈwɪkə(ɹ)/ˈwɪkɚ] is:

  • A flexible branch or twig of a plant such as willow, used in weaving baskets and furniture.

It comes from Middle English wiker (wickerwork), possibly from Old Norse veikr (pliant, weak), from Proto-Germanic *waikwaz [ˈwɑi̯.kʷɑz] (weak, soft, pliable), from *wīkwaną [ˈwiː.kʷɑ.nɑ̃] (to yield, fold, retreat) from Proto-Indo-European *weyk- (to bend, curve, divide) [source].

Words from the same PIE roots include week, weak, province and cervix in English; Wechsel (change, bill of exchange) in German; växel (change, bill of exchange, switch, gear) in Swedish; fois (time) in French; and vez (time, instance, place, turn) in Spanish [source].

Incidentally, the Middle English word woke [wɔːk/wɑːk], which meant weak, feeble, helpless, unimportant or bendable, comes from the same roots, as did the word wocnesse [ˈwɔːknɛs] (vulnerability to sin or iniquity, lack of fighting skill) [source].

They are not related to the modern usage of woke, which is an abbreviation woken (up), and originated in African-American vernacular as meaning awake, conscious, alert, well-informed, especially in racial and other social justice issues. It is often used in a dergatory way about anyone who holds views that are disliked by the person using it [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

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