Jan 31, 2020

Geoffrey Nunberg on ‘Wow’ and its Recent Popularity on Twitter

From the Washington Post

Wow! Impeachment: A study of the exclamation running wild on Twitter

By Katie Shepherd

“Wow.” “WOW.” “Just wow.”

It had a renaissance in the 1920s and is having another in the era of Twitter.

It is there that future linguists may someday find it reached a new zenith, at least in politics, during the impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

So what is the meaning of “wow”? Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Information, said “wow” basically means “Oh, really?”...

Its meaning can be applied to reflect any view. Nunberg said it is a “versatile phrase that can be positive or negative, self-ironizing (‘wow, awkward’) or sarcastic (‘oh, wow, I’m shocked!’), which is how it’s often used on Twitter to express mock astonishment at the effrontery or self-regard of someone else.”

“Wow is the ejaculation we use to express pure astonishment,” the linguist said.

Republicans use “wow” to make Democrats look bad, and vice versa, Nunberg said. Politicians are signaling to supporters that their political enemies’ arguments are so off-base, they’re unbelievable...


Geoff Nunberg is a linguist and an adjunct professor in the UC Berkeley School of Information.

Last updated:

February 18, 2020