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What Does ‘Woke’ Actually Mean?

What Does ‘Woke’ Actually Mean?

The word has been thrown around a lot in the last couple of years. Here's what 'woke' actually means and how is should be used.

WIth the word ‘woke’ increasingly being thrown around since the start of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and GB News even having a ‘woke watch’ segment on their show, some people have been left confused by what the word actually means and how to properly use it. So we’re here to help.

Woke meaning - What does ‘woke’ actually mean?

A person who is woke is typically considered to be sensitive to and aware of racial or social discrimination or injustice that they themselves aren’t experiencing, but that doesn’t have to be the case. 

The definition for ‘woke’ was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017. According to the publisher, the word originates from the African-American use of the word ‘woken’ or ‘awake’ and it means to be “well informed” or “alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice.” 

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines it as being “​aware of social and political issues, especially racism,” and underneath the definition, it says: “This word is often used in a disapproving way by people who think that some other people are too easily upset about these issues, or talk too much about them in a way that does not change anything.”

A protestor wields a 'Black Lives Matter' flag. (
Unsplash/Clay Banks)

The Cambridge Online Dictionary contains a similar definition of the verb, stating that woke is being “aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality.”

Urban Dictionary carries a different meaning. It says being woke is “the act of being very pretentious [attempting to impress by affecting greater importance or merit than is actually possessed] about how much you care about a social issue.” Note - this definition isn’t the official definition and can be an example of the “disapproving way” Oxford Dictionary stated it can be used in.

Is ‘woke’ slang for something?

Woke did actually start out as a slang word, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s thought the word dates back to the 19th century, but as it was generally used in spoken english rather than written down, the publication has struggled to find much evidence.

In an appeal for information and evidence of the use of the word ‘woke’ before 2008, Oxford English Dictionary said: “Because it began existence as a slang term that was more likely to be spoken than written, finding early examples of woke could require consulting unusual sources like transcripts, personal letters, pamphlets, or signs.”

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Black Lives Matter