Twerk, twerp, and other tw-words

By Anatoly Liberman

I determined to throw a glimpse at a couple tw-text even though creating my past publish on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk takes place with wonderful regularity. The verb implies “to transfer one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not yet manufactured its way into OED and potentially by no means will (let us hope so), but its origin barely poses a problem: twerk ought to be a blend of twist (or twitch) and get the job done (or jerk), a close relative of these kinds of verbs as squirm (quite possibly a blend of dialectal squir “to throw with a jerk” and worm) and twirl (? twist + whirl). When blends are coined “in plain sight” — as transpired to brunch, motel, and Eurasia — no a single has issues about their descent. At present, blending has grow to be a tiresome custom, and the stodgy products of grafting 1 phrase on a further are normally as clear as Texaco or Amtrak and equally inspiring. But no a person can confirm that twirl is indeed a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will for good remain “unknown.” Be that as it could, twerk does look like a mix, even though we do not know who, the place, and when launched it into the linguistic space of North The united states.

Most people feeling an factor of seem symbolism in words like twerk, even irrespective of its rhyming associates jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries advise us that quirk is also of not known origin and that jerk is a symbolic development. Shirk is obscure and, in accordance to some authorities, may possibly have experienced the influence of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have reasonable trust in the shirkSchurke connection. Original j– is this kind of a widespread expressive substitute for sh– that I ponder whether or not jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– suggests a thing fidgety and inconsequential: look at, in addition to the words cited above, tweak, twitter ~ Twitter, tweet, tweedle ~ twiddle ~ twizzle. As with blends, audio symbolism can not be “proved.” Some speakers listen to derogatory or humorous overtones in tw-, whilst some others do not, specifically since, for case in point, tweed and twill are properly respectable. It would be much too significantly to assume that some mix of appears would occur only in semantically relevant terms. I when mentioned the symbolic (possibly onomatopoeic, scary) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and had to defend my unoriginal plan against the presence of grace, the gentlest phrase a person can think about.

Snow White and the 7 Twerps.

Viewed from this viewpoint, the background of twerp also offers some desire. Two of its rhyming companions (slurp and burp) are even fewer beautiful than people of twerk. (Chirp is not also dignified both the Latinism stirp is bookish and happens almost never.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (equally prepared a long time immediately after the word was in use) trace it to a mix of a presented and a spouse and children title (T.W. Earp). This hypothesis is not unbelievable (compare namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, primarily based on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, amongst hundreds of “words from names”) but most likely a minimal also great to be real. Most likely twerp ~ twirp “midget fool an obnoxious person” had some forex at Oxford shortly following the Initially Environment War, and the identify T. W. Earp (a authentic individual and an Oxonian) gave rise to a witticism no one particular could resist. The phrase acquired universal currency as very low slang quickly right after its initial attestation. This point also speaks towards the jocular origin of twerp between a coterie of college pals.

Sadly, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not carry conviction. In accordance to one particular, twerp owes its origin to Danish tvær “running all the way across, diagonal.” This etymology was rejected as before long as it was instructed and for very good motive. How could a twentieth-century English slang phrase (a noun) be a phonetic alteration of a Modern Danish adjective? According to another guess, twerp is a doublet of dwarf. The senses correspond flawlessly, but the route from dwarf to twerp can not be reconstructed. Dwarf, though missing cognates in the relaxation of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages forever, as evidenced by Old Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Old Icelandic dvergr, Middle Superior German getwerk, plural Contemporary German Zwerg, and other equivalent forms. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not arrive from an outdoors resource (these types of a supply does not exist reference to Danish is a negative joke, and, by the way, the exact same phrase exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no approach acknowledged to English historic phonetics would have modified dwarf to twerp. A putting coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.

It shouldn’t occur as a surprise that the modern verb twerk has a variant twerp: this sort of coinages typically have “inconsequential” variants. Nonetheless, the most popular English terms beginning with tw– are of course those akin to the numeral two. In Present day English, only the spelling reminds us that centuries ago two was pronounced with tw-. (In spite of my steady aversion to etymological spelling, I would perhaps keep w in two, to preserve it affinity with twelve, twenty, twin, twilight, twine, twice, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs in this article as well. The noun designates a rope manufactured of two threads, a twirl, and refers to numerous distortions. As a result the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Particularly characteristic are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Minimal German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the same indicating). Twig “a little shoot of a tree” would seem to be akin to some terms for “fork.” If this is accurate, then a twig once denoted a forked department, an object with two prongs. How it acquired its modern-day meaning continues to be unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a picture of a little branch, even though it is smaller than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens trace to the vicissitudes in the fate of his hero when he known as him Twist? Just after all, it was he, somewhat than Mr. Bumble, who invented the identify.)

It is anybody’s guess irrespective of whether the idea of becoming divided into two areas affected the semantic growth of twirl, twitch, and the relaxation. Such ties can seldom be reconstructed with confidence. Some tw-words and phrases have absolutely nothing to do with people currently being talked over below. Amid them are twill and tweed (pointed out above), 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 dropped its prefix and nowadays looks like a simplex. Review mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the term aphetic for these types of words.) Tweezers has a somewhat intricate background. Twee– in it is an aphetic sort of French étuis “case,” but I surprise regardless of whether the simple fact that medical professionals employed to have a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, played a position in the word’s development. On the other hand, a specific discussion of these kinds of nuances would get us way too far afield. In this article, we, merry twerkers, have been predominantly interested in items not likely further than the knowing of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Anatoly Liberman is the creator of Term Origins…And How We Know Them as properly as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, each individual Wednesday. Deliver your etymology query to him care of [email protected] he’ll do his most effective to stay away from responding with “origin unidentified.”

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Picture credit history: Poster depicting Snow White with the prince surrounded by the Seven Dwarfs by Aida McKenzie. New York Town W.P.A. Artwork Project, [between 1936 and 1941]. Public area by way of Library of Congress.