By Anatoly Liberman
I resolved to throw a glimpse at a handful of tw-terms while producing my earlier submit on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk occurs with excellent regularity. The verb suggests “to transfer one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not but created its way into OED and maybe never ever will (let us hope so), but its origin barely poses a issue: twerk will have to be a blend of twist (or twitch) and get the job done (or jerk), a shut relative of such verbs as squirm (possibly a blend of dialectal squir “to throw with a jerk” and worm) and twirl (? twist + whirl). When blends are coined “in simple sight” — as transpired to brunch, motel, and Eurasia — no a person has issues about their descent. Nowadays, mixing has develop into a tiresome tailor made, and the stodgy items of grafting just one word on an additional are commonly as clear as Texaco or Amtrak and similarly inspiring. But no a single can prove that twirl is in truth a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will for good keep on being “unknown.” Be that as it could, twerk does glimpse like a mix, even nevertheless we really don’t know who, in which, and when introduced it into the linguistic area of North America.
Most persons perception an factor of seem symbolism in text like twerk, even regardless of its rhyming associates jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries notify 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, could have seasoned the affect of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have reasonable belief in the shirk–Schurke link. Initial j– is these a prevalent expressive substitute for sh– that I speculate no matter if jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– implies anything fidgety and inconsequential: examine, in addition to the phrases cited higher than, 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-, although many others do not, specifically since, for case in point, tweed and twill are properly respectable. It would be much too significantly to be expecting that some combination of sounds would come about only in semantically related text. I as soon as outlined the symbolic (maybe onomatopoeic, frightening) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and experienced to defend my unoriginal strategy in opposition to the existence of grace, the gentlest term just one can envision.
Viewed from this perspective, the history of twerp also presents some interest. Two of its rhyming associates (slurp and burp) are even much less eye-catching than individuals of twerk. (Chirp is not as well dignified either the Latinism stirp is bookish and occurs rarely.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (each penned a long time right after the phrase was in use) trace it to a mix of a provided and a spouse and children title (T.W. Earp). This hypothesis is not improbable (evaluate namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, based on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, amongst hundreds of “words from names”) but possibly a little way too excellent to be legitimate. Possibly twerp ~ twirp “midget idiot an obnoxious person” experienced some currency at Oxford shortly right after the Very first Environment War, and the title T. W. Earp (a authentic particular person and an Oxonian) gave increase to a witticism no just one could resist. The term attained universal currency as low slang soon right after its initial attestation. This truth also speaks against the jocular origin of twerp between a coterie of college buddies.
Regretably, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not have conviction. In accordance to a single, 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 good rationale. How could a twentieth-century English slang phrase (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 completely, but the path from dwarf to twerp simply cannot be reconstructed. Dwarf, although missing cognates in the relaxation of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages endlessly, as evidenced by Previous Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Aged Icelandic dvergr, Center Superior German getwerk, plural Contemporary German Zwerg, and other identical sorts. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not appear from an outdoors resource (this kind of a supply does not exist reference to Danish is a lousy joke, and, by the way, the same phrase exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no procedure recognised to English historic phonetics would have modified dwarf to twerp. A hanging coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.
It shouldn’t appear as a surprise that the present day verb twerk has a variant twerp: this sort of coinages usually have “inconsequential” variants. Even so, the most popular English text commencing with tw– are of program 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-. (Regardless of my constant aversion to etymological spelling, I would most likely keep w in two, to maintain it affinity with twelve, twenty, twin, twilight, twine, twice, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs listed here also. The noun designates a rope built of two threads, a twirl, and refers to numerous distortions. As a result the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Especially characteristic are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Minimal German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the identical indicating). Twig “a modest shoot of a tree” would seem to be akin to some terms for “fork.” If this is legitimate, then a twig at the time denoted a forked department, an object with two prongs. How it obtained its modern which means stays unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a photo of a little branch, however it is smaller sized 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, alternatively than Mr. Bumble, who invented the title.)
It is anybody’s guess no matter whether the concept of being divided into two parts influenced the semantic growth of twirl, twitch, and the rest. Such ties can seldom be reconstructed with self confidence. Some tw-phrases have very little to do with individuals getting talked about listed here. Among them are twill and tweed (mentioned above), the other twig (“to understand”) traditionally derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Previous Engl. æt-witan (read æ like a in Engl. at), which lost its prefix and currently appears like a simplex. Assess mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the time period aphetic for such terms.) Tweezers has a somewhat complex heritage. Twee– in it is an aphetic type of French étuis “case,” but I ponder no matter whether the truth that medical doctors made use of to have a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, played a part in the word’s enhancement. Nevertheless, a thorough discussion of this sort of nuances would acquire us as well much afield. In this put up, we, merry twerkers, have been primarily interested in issues not heading further than the understanding 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 term origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears below, every single Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of [email protected] he’ll do his finest to stay clear of responding with “origin unfamiliar.”
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Image credit history: 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]. Community area by way of Library of Congress.