Twerk, twerp, and other tw-words

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By Anatoly Liberman

I made the decision to throw a look at a couple tw-text whilst producing my earlier article on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk happens with terrific regularity. The verb implies “to move one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not yet produced its way into OED and perhaps never ever will (allow us hope so), but its origin rarely poses a problem: twerk must be a mix of twist (or twitch) and function (or jerk), a shut relative of such 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 basic sight” — as happened to brunch, motel, and Eurasia — no 1 has inquiries about their descent. These days, blending has grow to be a tiresome tailor made, and the stodgy items of grafting one particular phrase on another are ordinarily as transparent as Texaco or Amtrak and equally inspiring. But no 1 can demonstrate that twirl is indeed a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will for good continue to be “unknown.” Be that as it may, twerk does glance like a blend, even nevertheless we really don’t know who, where, and when launched it into the linguistic place of North The united states.

Most persons feeling an element of seem symbolism in text like twerk, even regardless of its rhyming partners jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries notify us that quirk is also of mysterious origin and that jerk is a symbolic formation. Shirk is obscure and, in accordance to some authorities, might have expert the impact of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have average trust in the shirkSchurke link. Original j– is this kind of a popular expressive substitute for sh– that I question irrespective of whether jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– implies anything fidgety and inconsequential: assess, in addition to the text cited over, tweak, twitter ~ Twitter, tweet, tweedle ~ twiddle ~ twizzle. As with blends, sound symbolism can’t be “proved.” Some speakers hear derogatory or humorous overtones in tw-, even though other individuals do not, especially because, for example, tweed and twill are completely respectable. It would be too much to anticipate that some mix of sounds would take place only in semantically relevant phrases. I after described the symbolic (maybe onomatopoeic, frightening) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and had to protect my unoriginal plan against the existence of grace, the gentlest word a single can think about.

Snow White and the Seven Twerps.

Viewed from this point of view, the background of twerp also presents some interest. Two of its rhyming companions (slurp and burp) are even less attractive than individuals of twerk. (Chirp is not much too dignified possibly the Latinism stirp is bookish and takes place rarely.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (equally prepared a long time immediately after the term was in use) trace it to a mix of a specified and a household identify (T.W. Earp). This speculation is not improbable (examine namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, dependent on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, among the hundreds of “words from names”) but probably a minimal as well good to be legitimate. Most likely twerp ~ twirp “midget fool an obnoxious person” experienced some forex at Oxford before long just after the First Entire world War, and the title T. W. Earp (a genuine man or woman and an Oxonian) gave rise to a witticism no just one could resist. The phrase obtained common currency as reduced slang before long right after its very first attestation. This simple fact also speaks in opposition to the jocular origin of twerp amid a coterie of university friends.

Regrettably, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not carry conviction. According to one particular, twerp owes its origin to Danish tvær “running all the way throughout, diagonal.” This etymology was rejected as soon as it was recommended and for excellent rationale. How could a twentieth-century English slang word (a noun) be a phonetic alteration of a Modern day Danish adjective? In accordance to a further guess, twerp is a doublet of dwarf. The senses correspond perfectly, but the route from dwarf to twerp are not able to be reconstructed. Dwarf, even though missing cognates in the relaxation of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages forever, as evidenced by Previous Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Previous Icelandic dvergr, Middle Substantial German getwerk, plural Modern German Zwerg, and other identical kinds. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not arrive from an exterior supply (these types of a source does not exist reference to Danish is a lousy joke, and, by the way, the exact phrase exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no method recognised to English historic phonetics would have modified dwarf to twerp. A placing coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.

It shouldn’t occur as a surprise that the contemporary verb twerk has a variant twerp: this kind of coinages typically have “inconsequential” variants. Nonetheless, the most frequent English words and phrases beginning with tw– are of study course those people akin to the numeral two. In Fashionable English, only the spelling reminds us that hundreds of years in the past two was pronounced with tw-. (In spite of my continuous aversion to etymological spelling, I would potentially keep w in two, to protect it affinity with twelve, 20, twin, twilight, twine, 2 times, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs in this article too. The noun designates a rope made of two threads, a twirl, and refers to several distortions. For this reason the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Primarily attribute are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Minimal German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the same meaning). Twig “a modest shoot of a tree” seems to be akin to some terms for “fork.” If this is accurate, then a twig as soon as denoted a forked branch, an object with two prongs. How it acquired its fashionable meaning continues to be unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a photograph of a small branch, nevertheless it is more compact than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens trace to the vicissitudes in the fate of his hero when he identified as him Twist? Following all, it was he, relatively than Mr. Bumble, who invented the name.)

It is anybody’s guess whether the concept of getting divided into two areas influenced the semantic advancement of twirl, twitch, and the relaxation. Such ties can rarely be reconstructed with self confidence. Some tw-terms have nothing at all to do with people getting talked over right here. Between them are twill and tweed (outlined above), the other twig (“to understand”) ordinarily derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Outdated Engl. æt-witan (go through æ like a in Engl. at), which misplaced its prefix and now seems to be like a simplex. Compare mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the phrase aphetic for this kind of words and phrases.) Tweezers has a relatively complicated background. Twee– in it is an aphetic form of French étuis “case,” but I surprise no matter if the simple fact that medical professionals used to carry a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, played a role in the word’s improvement. However, a in-depth discussion of such nuances would choose us too considerably afield. In this write-up, we, merry twerkers, have been largely interested in matters not going over and above the being familiar with of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Anatoly Liberman is the writer of Term Origins…And How We Know Them as nicely as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on phrase origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears here, every single Wednesday. Deliver your etymology question to him care of [email protected] he’ll do his finest to keep away from responding with “origin unidentified.”

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Image credit history: Poster depicting Snow White with the prince surrounded by the Seven Dwarfs by Aida McKenzie. New York City W.P.A. Art Job, [between 1936 and 1941]. General public area via Library of Congress.