By Anatoly Liberman
I made the decision to throw a appear at a couple of tw-words and phrases whilst crafting my prior article on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk occurs with wonderful regularity. The verb usually means “to shift one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not still built its way into OED and most likely under no circumstances will (let us hope so), but its origin rarely poses a issue: twerk should be a blend of twist (or twitch) and get the job done (or jerk), a shut relative of these verbs as squirm (maybe a blend of dialectal squir “to throw 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 person has questions about their descent. Currently, mixing has come to be a tiresome customized, and the stodgy merchandise of grafting a person phrase on one more are ordinarily as transparent as Texaco or Amtrak and equally inspiring. But no a single can establish that twirl is in fact a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will eternally continue to be “unknown.” Be that as it may possibly, twerk does search like a mix, even nevertheless we do not know who, exactly where, and when launched it into the linguistic house of North The usa.
Most persons perception an element of audio symbolism in terms like twerk, even regardless of its rhyming associates jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries tell us that quirk is also of unfamiliar origin and that jerk is a symbolic formation. Shirk is obscure and, according to some authorities, may possibly have knowledgeable the affect of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have moderate have faith in in the shirk–Schurke connection. Preliminary j– is this kind of a prevalent expressive substitute for sh– that I wonder whether or not jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– indicates anything fidgety and inconsequential: compare, in addition to the words cited above, tweak, twitter ~ Twitter, tweet, tweedle ~ twiddle ~ twizzle. As with blends, seem symbolism are not able to be “proved.” Some speakers listen to derogatory or humorous overtones in tw-, whilst other individuals do not, particularly since, for example, tweed and twill are flawlessly respectable. It would be far too much to be expecting that some mixture of appears would manifest only in semantically similar words. I as soon as mentioned the symbolic (most likely onomatopoeic, scary) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and experienced to defend my unoriginal plan from the existence of grace, the gentlest phrase just one can visualize.
Considered from this viewpoint, the record of twerp also offers some desire. Two of its rhyming companions (slurp and burp) are even less beautiful than those of twerk. (Chirp is not as well dignified either the Latinism stirp is bookish and happens almost never.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (each prepared many years after the term was in use) trace it to a blend of a supplied and a family identify (T.W. Earp). This speculation is not improbable (assess namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, dependent on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, among the hundreds of “words from names”) but probably a little far too great to be real. Maybe twerp ~ twirp “midget idiot an obnoxious person” experienced some currency at Oxford shortly soon after the First Entire world War, and the title T. W. Earp (a genuine individual and an Oxonian) gave rise to a witticism no a person could resist. The phrase attained universal forex as lower slang shortly just after its 1st attestation. This point also speaks versus the jocular origin of twerp between a coterie of university good friends.
However, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not have conviction. According to a single, twerp owes its origin to Danish tvær “running all the way throughout, diagonal.” This etymology was rejected as soon as it was instructed and for great explanation. How could a twentieth-century English slang phrase (a noun) be a phonetic alteration of a Present day Danish adjective? In accordance to a different guess, twerp is a doublet of dwarf. The senses correspond properly, but the path from dwarf to twerp can not be reconstructed. Dwarf, even though lacking cognates in the rest of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages eternally, as evidenced by Outdated Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Old Icelandic dvergr, Center Substantial German getwerk, plural Contemporary German Zwerg, and other equivalent kinds. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not appear from an outside the house resource (these a resource does not exist reference to Danish is a poor joke, and, by the way, the very same phrase exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no course of action regarded to English historic phonetics would have modified dwarf to twerp. A placing coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.
It should not appear as a surprise that the modern day verb twerk has a variant twerp: this sort of coinages commonly have “inconsequential” variants. Even so, the most widespread English phrases commencing with tw– are of system these akin to the numeral two. In Fashionable English, only the spelling reminds us that hundreds of years ago two was pronounced with tw-. (Inspite of my regular aversion to etymological spelling, I would maybe keep w in two, to maintain it affinity with twelve, 20, twin, twilight, twine, two times, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs below as well. The noun designates a rope designed of two threads, a twirl, and refers to different distortions. Consequently the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Specially attribute are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Low German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the similar that means). Twig “a small shoot of a tree” looks to be akin to some text for “fork.” If this is true, then a twig as soon as denoted a forked department, an item with two prongs. How it obtained its modern indicating remains unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a picture of a little branch, although it is smaller than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens trace to the vicissitudes in the destiny of his hero when he termed him Twist? Following all, it was he, alternatively than Mr. Bumble, who invented the name.)
It is anybody’s guess whether the thought of becoming divided into two parts influenced the semantic advancement of twirl, twitch, and the rest. Such ties can rarely be reconstructed with self esteem. Some tw-text have practically nothing to do with individuals getting reviewed right here. Among the them are twill and tweed (outlined earlier mentioned), the other twig (“to understand”) historically derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Aged Engl. æt-witan (go through æ like a in Engl. at), which shed its prefix and now appears to be like like a simplex. Compare mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the term aphetic for these kinds of text.) Tweezers has a fairly difficult heritage. Twee– in it is an aphetic sort of French étuis “case,” but I speculate regardless of whether the simple fact that health professionals utilized to carry a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, played a purpose in the word’s advancement. Even so, a specific discussion of these kinds of nuances would choose us way too considerably afield. In this post, we, merry twerkers, have been largely intrigued in matters not heading over and above the understanding of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Anatoly Liberman is the author of Phrase 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 in this article, each Wednesday. Mail your etymology question to him care of [email protected] he’ll do his best to prevent responding with “origin unfamiliar.”
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Impression credit score: Poster depicting Snow White with the prince surrounded by the Seven Dwarfs by Aida McKenzie. New York Town W.P.A. Artwork Task, [between 1936 and 1941]. Public area via Library of Congress.