By Anatoly Liberman
I made the decision to toss a search at a couple of tw-words and phrases although composing my earlier write-up on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk occurs with wonderful regularity. The verb suggests “to go one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not nonetheless manufactured its way into OED and potentially in no way will (let us hope so), but its origin hardly poses a trouble: twerk must be a blend of twist (or twitch) and get the job done (or jerk), a near relative of these types of verbs as squirm (probably a mix of dialectal squir “to toss with a jerk” and worm) and twirl (? twist + whirl). When blends are coined “in basic sight” — as took place to brunch, motel, and Eurasia — no a single has queries about their descent. At present, mixing has develop into a tiresome custom made, and the stodgy items of grafting just one word on an additional are normally as clear as Texaco or Amtrak and similarly inspiring. But no just one can confirm that twirl is certainly a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will without end continue to be “unknown.” Be that as it could, twerk does glance like a mix, even even though we really don’t know who, wherever, and when introduced it into the linguistic house of North The us.
Most individuals feeling an factor of seem symbolism in text like twerk, even no matter of its rhyming associates jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries inform us that quirk is also of unidentified origin and that jerk is a symbolic formation. Shirk is obscure and, in accordance to some authorities, could have seasoned the influence of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have reasonable believe in in the shirk–Schurke link. Initial j– is this kind of a frequent expressive substitute for sh– that I surprise no matter if jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– suggests a thing fidgety and inconsequential: review, in addition to the words cited above, tweak, twitter ~ Twitter, tweet, tweedle ~ twiddle ~ twizzle. As with blends, seem symbolism can not be “proved.” Some speakers listen to derogatory or humorous overtones in tw-, though some others do not, in particular due to the fact, for illustration, tweed and twill are beautifully respectable. It would be far too a lot to expect that some combination of appears would arise only in semantically relevant text. I the moment talked about the symbolic (probably onomatopoeic, scary) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and experienced to defend my unoriginal thought in opposition to the existence of grace, the gentlest term just one can consider.
Viewed from this perspective, the history of twerp also provides some curiosity. Two of its rhyming associates (slurp and burp) are even considerably less beautiful than people of twerk. (Chirp is not far 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 equally composed many years following the word was in use) trace it to a mix of a provided and a relatives title (T.W. Earp). This speculation is not inconceivable (review namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, primarily based on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, among the hundreds of “words from names”) but potentially a minimal too very good to be accurate. Possibly twerp ~ twirp “midget fool an obnoxious person” experienced some forex at Oxford soon right after the To start with World War, and the identify T. W. Earp (a genuine individual and an Oxonian) gave rise to a witticism no one could resist. The word attained universal currency as low slang soon soon after its initially attestation. This truth also speaks from the jocular origin of twerp amongst a coterie of university mates.
Unfortunately, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not have conviction. In accordance to a person, twerp owes its origin to Danish tvær “running all the way throughout, diagonal.” This etymology was turned down as before long as it was suggested and for superior explanation. How could a twentieth-century English slang word (a noun) be a phonetic alteration of a Fashionable Danish adjective? According to a further guess, twerp is a doublet of dwarf. The senses correspond flawlessly, but the route from dwarf to twerp simply cannot be reconstructed. Dwarf, although lacking cognates in the rest of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages permanently, as evidenced by Old Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Old Icelandic dvergr, Center Significant German getwerk, plural Contemporary German Zwerg, and other related types. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not appear from an outside supply (this sort of a source does not exist reference to Danish is a lousy joke, and, incidentally, the similar phrase exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no approach identified to English historical phonetics would have improved dwarf to twerp. A hanging coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.
It should not appear as a surprise that the present day verb twerk has a variant twerp: these kinds of coinages typically have “inconsequential” variants. On the other hand, the most prevalent English phrases starting with tw– are of course all those akin to the numeral two. In Present day English, only the spelling reminds us that generations ago two was pronounced with tw-. (In spite of my steady aversion to etymological spelling, I would potentially keep w in two, to protect it affinity with twelve, twenty, twin, twilight, twine, twice, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs in this article far too. The noun designates a rope created of two threads, a twirl, and refers to a variety of distortions. Hence the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Particularly characteristic are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Very low German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the similar this means). Twig “a compact shoot of a tree” would seem to be akin to some words and phrases for “fork.” If this is true, then a twig as soon as denoted a forked department, an object with two prongs. How it obtained its contemporary meaning continues to be unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a picture of a very small department, nevertheless it is smaller than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens hint to the vicissitudes in the destiny of his hero when he referred to as him Twist? After all, it was he, instead than Mr. Bumble, who invented the title.)
It is anybody’s guess no matter whether the notion of remaining divided into two areas motivated the semantic progress of twirl, twitch, and the relaxation. Such ties can seldom be reconstructed with self-assurance. Some tw-terms have nothing at all to do with those becoming discussed listed here. Among the them are twill and tweed (pointed out higher than), the other twig (“to understand”) typically derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Outdated Engl. æt-witan (browse æ like a in Engl. at), which missing its prefix and nowadays seems to be like a simplex. Compare mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the phrase aphetic for these types of text.) Tweezers has a instead intricate heritage. Twee– in it is an aphetic type of French étuis “case,” but I question no matter whether the point that medical doctors applied to carry a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, played a purpose in the word’s advancement. Nonetheless, a detailed discussion of these types of nuances would take us way too considerably afield. In this put up, we, merry twerkers, have been mainly intrigued in matters not heading outside of the knowledge of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Anatoly Liberman is the author of Phrase Origins…And How We Know Them as very well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on term origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears right here, each and every Wednesday. Ship your etymology query to him treatment of [email protected] he’ll do his ideal to avoid responding with “origin mysterious.”
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Image credit score: Poster depicting Snow White with the prince surrounded by the 7 Dwarfs by Aida McKenzie. New York City W.P.A. Art Project, [between 1936 and 1941]. Public area via Library of Congress.