Intensifying expletive constructions in English tweets: the case of #wokeAF


Quick links: slides

Presented by Andreea S. Calude, as part of a joint project with Amber Anderson and David Trye.

The hashtag has seen increasing attention in the linguistics literature, in recognition of its prevalence on social media and in other modes of communication. In this talk, we report on a diachronic analysis of the hashtag #wokeAF in English-language tweets posted between 2012 and 2022. First, we trace the use of the word woke from verb to adjective, with novel uses arising in African American Vernacular English and spreading to standard English. We argue that such uses led to a novel construction: the intensifying expletive ([adjective + as + expletive]). Although examples of the intensifying expletive are listed in the Urban Dictionary, to our knowledge, this is the first linguistic analysis of the construction. Second, we analyse semantic interpretations and syntactic characteristics of the intensifying expletive #wokeAF, by documenting its use in tweets spanning eleven years. Analysis of the discourse and the context in which the hashtag appears allows us to uncover its novel use as a collective noun, which in our data, is linked to a strongly pejorative stance. In general, we find innovation in the semantic scope of the hashtag and versatility in its position and integration within tweets. Given the pervasiveness of the word woke in the public consciousness as evidenced by its occurrence in the popular press, we hope to fill a timely gap, while also tackling broader issues around the role of social media in language change.