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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(adj.) sleepless, restless, easily woken; capable of getting by on little sleep

Despite being roughly a millennium old, the word rife is still used today just as it was in Old English, to mean ‘widespread’, ‘abundant’, or ‘ample’.

Much less common today, however, is its use as a suffix, creating words bearing some sense of abounding with or being susceptible to whatever root word it is attached to. It is this process that gave us a handful of handsome words like wasterife (‘profligate, extravagant’), cauldrife (‘susceptible to cold temperatures’), meatrife (‘having a plentiful supply of food’), mockrife (‘scornful, given to making fun’), and wakerife, meaning ‘restless’, or ‘disinclined to sleep’.

In the ever-inventive Scots dialect, however, wakerife morphed in waukrife and picked up several more specific and more nuanced definitions. As well as meaning simply ‘wakeful’, ultimately, waukrife can also be used of someone who is easily roused, someone who sleeps only very lightly, if at all, and (perhaps as a consequence) someone who is capable of making do with only a few hours’ rest.

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