From #Brexit to #Woke: Social media is changing the way we speak.

By Patrick Wood

You may have noticed social media taking over our lives, but did you know it’s also influencing the language we use and which new words gain popularity?

The Oxford and Collins dictionaries have both recently released their words of the year lists , which include entries such as “Brexit”, “woke”, “sharenting” and “mic drop”.

Crossword creator and wordsmith David Astle said these words — and others that grace the new list — have been fuelled by social media hashtags or driven by popular figures on the internet.

“[Social media] has been a massive dynamo for lexicography, because suddenly so much more snubs and shares and intimations are now in text,” he said.

“Before they used to be down on the corner, in the pub, in the city square.

“Now, because we’re sharing by text and tweets and Instagram, suddenly we have a snail trail of how language is used and how many people are using it.”

Mr Astle doesn’t see any issue with this lexicon leap, and said it wasn’t about dumbing down language but just spreading the word.

“It’s hard for a word to come in without it being picked up by social media,” he said.

“But it doesn’t mean that social media is the judge and jury.

“It’s just the agent, the town crier, and the lexicographer is walking down the street and the more he hears that word, or she hears that word, the more she can consider that as being something to include in the wider glossary.”

These words have history.

Many of the words to come to prominence this year have a long history, but were brought into common use by a particular person or movement.

“Woke” refers to being alert to social injustice, particularly racism.

Oxford Dictionaries traces the use of woke back decades within the African-American community, but said it was propelled to a wider audience by advocates of the US Black Lives Matter movement using the phrase “stay woke”.

Mr Astle points to US President Barack Obama’s use of “mic drop” during a speech as the reason for its rise, despite the fact it was used as far back as 1983 by comedian Eddie Murphy in a stand-up routine.

“They are the lightening rods, those sort of people,” he said.

“As soon as a major public figure adopts a word or even uses a word, it’s incredible to see the action that happens.

“A gesture in this case with mic drop, as soon as that is adopted by a major stakeholder or public figure, then you wait for it, it has a major trigger effect.”

Mr Astle said the most common form of “new” word was actually a hybrid of existing terms or ideas.

Terms like “Brexit” (British exit, referring to the United Kingdom leaving the European Union); “sharenting” (parents sharing their children’s lives on social media); and “floordrobe” (using your bedroom floor as a wardrobe).

“These have just been hatched by a clever anonymous person somewhere in the network,” Mr Astle said.

“It’s very hard to source them, and then they’re just propagated.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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