Twerk, twerp, and other tw-words

By Anatoly Liberman

I decided to throw a seem at a couple of tw-phrases though crafting my preceding submit on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk occurs with terrific regularity. The verb indicates “to transfer one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not still manufactured its way into OED and probably never will (let us hope so), but its origin hardly poses a trouble: twerk must be a mix of twist (or twitch) and get the job done (or jerk), a close relative of these kinds of verbs as squirm (perhaps a mix of dialectal squir “to toss with a jerk” and worm) and twirl (? twist + whirl). When blends are coined “in simple sight” — as occurred to brunch, motel, and Eurasia — no 1 has questions about their descent. Currently, mixing has grow to be a tiresome tailor made, and the stodgy items of grafting one particular word on a further are normally as transparent as Texaco or Amtrak and equally inspiring. But no one can demonstrate that twirl is in truth a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will eternally continue being “unknown.” Be that as it may well, twerk does glance like a mix, even while we really do not know who, exactly where, and when introduced it into the linguistic place of North The united states.

Most people sense an element of seem symbolism in words like twerk, even irrespective of its rhyming companions jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries advise us that quirk is also of unknown origin and that jerk is a symbolic formation. Shirk is obscure and, according to some authorities, may perhaps have expert the impact of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have reasonable believe in in the shirkSchurke connection. Initial j– is this sort of a typical expressive substitute for sh– that I ponder irrespective of whether jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– implies some thing fidgety and inconsequential: evaluate, in addition to the words cited over, tweak, twitter ~ Twitter, tweet, tweedle ~ twiddle ~ twizzle. As with blends, sound symbolism cannot be “proved.” Some speakers hear derogatory or humorous overtones in tw-, even though other folks do not, particularly for the reason that, for instance, tweed and twill are completely respectable. It would be too significantly to expect that some blend of seems would take place only in semantically associated text. I after described the symbolic (maybe onomatopoeic, terrifying) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and experienced to defend my unoriginal thought in opposition to the presence of grace, the gentlest term a person can visualize.

Snow White and the 7 Twerps.

Seen from this point of view, the heritage of twerp also provides some curiosity. Two of its rhyming companions (slurp and burp) are even less beautiful than these of twerk. (Chirp is not much too dignified both the Latinism stirp is bookish and happens almost never.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (both of those created a long time just after the phrase was in use) trace it to a blend of a provided and a family name (T.W. Earp). This speculation is not improbable (review namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, dependent on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, between hundreds of “words from names”) but perhaps a little too great to be correct. Probably twerp ~ twirp “midget fool an obnoxious person” experienced some forex at Oxford quickly immediately after the Very first World War, and the name T. W. Earp (a actual man or woman and an Oxonian) gave increase to a witticism no a person could resist. The term attained universal forex as lower slang shortly after its very first attestation. This reality also speaks in opposition to the jocular origin of twerp among the a coterie of college mates.

Regretably, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not carry conviction. According to a single, twerp owes its origin to Danish tvær “running all the way throughout, diagonal.” This etymology was turned down as soon as it was recommended and for good motive. How could a twentieth-century English slang phrase (a noun) be a phonetic alteration of a Present day Danish adjective? According to a further guess, twerp is a doublet of dwarf. The senses correspond perfectly, but the path from dwarf to twerp are unable to be reconstructed. Dwarf, whilst missing cognates in the relaxation of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages for good, as evidenced by Outdated Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Aged Icelandic dvergr, Center Significant German getwerk, plural Fashionable German Zwerg, and other very similar forms. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not come from an exterior supply (such a source does not exist reference to Danish is a undesirable joke, and, by the way, the very same term exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no course of action recognized to English historical phonetics would have improved dwarf to twerp. A placing coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.

It shouldn’t appear as a shock that the modern-day verb twerk has a variant twerp: these types of coinages ordinarily have “inconsequential” variants. Nevertheless, the most common English terms commencing with tw– are of system these akin to the numeral two. In Modern-day English, only the spelling reminds us that hundreds of years back two was pronounced with tw-. (Irrespective of my regular aversion to etymological spelling, I would possibly retain w in two, to preserve it affinity with twelve, twenty, twin, twilight, twine, 2 times, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs below much too. The noun designates a rope created of two threads, a twirl, and refers to various distortions. Hence the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Specifically characteristic are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Low German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the very same meaning). Twig “a compact shoot of a tree” appears to be to be akin to some words and phrases for “fork.” If this is accurate, then a twig once denoted a forked department, an item with two prongs. How it acquired its modern day meaning remains unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a photo of a tiny branch, nevertheless it is smaller than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens trace to the vicissitudes in the destiny of his hero when he called him Twist? Right after all, it was he, relatively than Mr. Bumble, who invented the identify.)

It is anybody’s guess no matter whether the notion of becoming divided into two sections influenced the semantic advancement of twirl, twitch, and the relaxation. Such ties can rarely be reconstructed with self confidence. Some tw-words and phrases have nothing at all to do with individuals being mentioned listed here. Amongst them are twill and tweed (outlined previously mentioned), the other twig (“to understand”) customarily derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Old Engl. æt-witan (study æ like a in Engl. at), which lost its prefix and today seems like a simplex. Assess mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the expression aphetic for such text.) Tweezers has a rather sophisticated historical past. Twee– in it is an aphetic variety of French étuis “case,” but I marvel no matter whether the fact that doctors utilized to have a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, performed a purpose in the word’s enhancement. However, a detailed discussion of this kind of nuances would consider us too considerably afield. In this submit, we, merry twerkers, have been generally fascinated in points not heading over and above the knowing of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Anatoly Liberman is the creator of Phrase Origins…And How We Know Them as perfectly as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on term origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears below, every single Wednesday. Deliver your etymology dilemma to him care of [email protected] he’ll do his most effective to avoid responding with “origin unidentified.”

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