Twerk, twerp, and other tw-words
By Anatoly Liberman
I made the decision to toss a seem at a several tw-words and phrases even though writing my earlier write-up on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk happens with fantastic regularity. The verb implies “to move one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not however designed its way into OED and maybe by no means will (allow us hope so), but its origin hardly poses a trouble: twerk have to be a mix of twist (or twitch) and get the job done (or jerk), a close relative of such verbs as squirm (quite possibly a mix of dialectal squir “to toss with a jerk” and worm) and twirl (? twist + whirl). When blends are coined “in plain sight” — as took place to brunch, motel, and Eurasia — no a single has inquiries about their descent. Currently, mixing has develop into a tiresome custom, and the stodgy goods of grafting one particular phrase on an additional are normally as clear as Texaco or Amtrak and equally inspiring. But no just one can demonstrate that twirl is in fact a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will for good keep on being “unknown.” Be that as it may perhaps, twerk does search like a mix, even while we never know who, where, and when released it into the linguistic room of North America.
Most folks feeling an component of seem symbolism in words like twerk, even no matter of its rhyming companions jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries inform us that quirk is also of unfamiliar origin and that jerk is a symbolic development. Shirk is obscure and, according to some authorities, may possibly have knowledgeable the influence of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have average belief in the shirk–Schurke connection. Preliminary j– is these a typical expressive substitute for sh– that I surprise whether or not jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– implies something fidgety and inconsequential: examine, in addition to the text cited previously mentioned, tweak, twitter ~ Twitter, tweet, tweedle ~ twiddle ~ twizzle. As with blends, audio symbolism are not able to be “proved.” Some speakers listen to derogatory or humorous overtones in tw-, while other folks do not, especially due to the fact, for instance, tweed and twill are correctly respectable. It would be as well a great deal to be expecting that some blend of appears would arise only in semantically linked phrases. I as soon as described the symbolic (possibly onomatopoeic, horrifying) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and experienced to defend my unoriginal concept in opposition to the presence of grace, the gentlest phrase just one can picture.
Seen from this point of view, the record of twerp also presents some interest. Two of its rhyming partners (slurp and burp) are even considerably less attractive than individuals of twerk. (Chirp is not much too dignified possibly the Latinism stirp is bookish and takes place not often.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (each written decades after the word was in use) trace it to a mix of a given and a family members identify (T.W. Earp). This speculation is not inconceivable (assess namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, based on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, amid hundreds of “words from names”) but most likely a tiny much too good to be real. Probably twerp ~ twirp “midget fool an obnoxious person” had some currency at Oxford before long right after the First Earth War, and the name T. W. Earp (a genuine individual and an Oxonian) gave increase to a witticism no a single could resist. The phrase acquired common forex as very low slang shortly following its first attestation. This simple fact also speaks in opposition to the jocular origin of twerp among a coterie of university friends.
Regretably, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not have conviction. In accordance to one particular, twerp owes its origin to Danish tvær “running all the way across, diagonal.” This etymology was turned down as shortly as it was advised and for fantastic rationale. How could a twentieth-century English slang term (a noun) be a phonetic alteration of a Modern-day Danish adjective? According to one more guess, twerp is a doublet of dwarf. The senses correspond correctly, but the path from dwarf to twerp cannot be reconstructed. Dwarf, despite the fact that lacking cognates in the rest of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages eternally, as evidenced by Previous Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Old Icelandic dvergr, Center High German getwerk, plural Contemporary German Zwerg, and other comparable varieties. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not come from an outside resource (these types of a supply does not exist reference to Danish is a negative joke, and, incidentally, the similar word exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no system recognized to English historical phonetics would have changed dwarf to twerp. A hanging coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.
It shouldn’t arrive as a surprise that the modern-day verb twerk has a variant twerp: this sort of coinages commonly have “inconsequential” variants. Having said that, the most frequent English text commencing with tw– are of training course these akin to the numeral two. In Modern-day English, only the spelling reminds us that hundreds of years in the past two was pronounced with tw-. (Irrespective of my steady aversion to etymological spelling, I would possibly keep w in two, to preserve it affinity with twelve, 20, twin, twilight, twine, two times, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs here as well. The noun designates a rope made of two threads, a twirl, and refers to many distortions. For this reason the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Particularly attribute are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Minimal German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the exact same that means). Twig “a small shoot of a tree” appears to be to be akin to some words for “fork.” If this is correct, then a twig the moment denoted a forked department, an object with two prongs. How it obtained its fashionable meaning stays unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a photo of a very small branch, however it is more compact than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens hint to the vicissitudes in the fate of his hero when he referred to as him Twist? Following all, it was he, fairly than Mr. Bumble, who invented the identify.)
It is anybody’s guess whether the concept of remaining divided into two areas affected the semantic development of twirl, twitch, and the relaxation. Such ties can rarely be reconstructed with self esteem. Some tw-text have almost nothing to do with individuals being mentioned right here. Among the them are twill and tweed (pointed out previously mentioned), the other twig (“to understand”) customarily derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Previous Engl. æt-witan (read æ like a in Engl. at), which missing its prefix and today appears like a simplex. Evaluate mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the term aphetic for these kinds of text.) Tweezers has a fairly sophisticated heritage. Twee– in it is an aphetic sort of French étuis “case,” but I ponder no matter whether the reality that medical practitioners utilized to carry a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, performed a function in the word’s improvement. However, a thorough dialogue of these kinds of nuances would just take us much too significantly afield. In this publish, we, merry twerkers, have been generally interested in things not heading outside of the knowing of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Anatoly Liberman is the writer of Phrase Origins…And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, seems listed here, every Wednesday. Deliver your etymology concern to him care of blog [email protected] he’ll do his greatest to steer clear of responding with “origin unfamiliar.”
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Picture credit score: Poster depicting Snow White with the prince surrounded by the 7 Dwarfs by Aida McKenzie. New York Town W.P.A. Artwork Venture, [between 1936 and 1941]. General public area by way of Library of Congress.