By Anatoly Liberman
I resolved to toss a appear at a handful of tw-words while creating my earlier submit on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk takes place with good regularity. The verb indicates “to transfer one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not still created its way into OED and possibly never ever will (permit us hope so), but its origin barely poses a difficulty: twerk need to be a blend of twist (or twitch) and do the job (or jerk), a shut relative of this kind of verbs as squirm (quite possibly a mix of dialectal squir “to toss with a jerk” and worm) and twirl (? twist + whirl). When blends are coined “in plain sight” — as occurred to brunch, motel, and Eurasia — no 1 has concerns about their descent. Currently, blending has develop into a tiresome personalized, and the stodgy goods of grafting one particular word on a different are generally as clear as Texaco or Amtrak and similarly inspiring. But no a single can establish that twirl is in fact a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will eternally keep on being “unknown.” Be that as it may possibly, twerk does search like a mix, even however we do not know who, the place, and when released it into the linguistic place of North America.
Most individuals sense an component of seem symbolism in words like twerk, even regardless of its rhyming partners jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries notify us that quirk is also of unfamiliar origin and that jerk is a symbolic development. Shirk is obscure and, in accordance to some authorities, could have skilled the influence of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have moderate have confidence in in the shirk–Schurke connection. Original j– is these types of a typical expressive substitute for sh– that I question whether jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– implies a little something fidgety and inconsequential: examine, in addition to the text cited previously mentioned, tweak, twitter ~ Twitter, tweet, tweedle ~ twiddle ~ twizzle. As with blends, sound symbolism are unable to be “proved.” Some speakers hear derogatory or humorous overtones in tw-, even though some others do not, primarily for the reason that, for case in point, tweed and twill are beautifully respectable. It would be as well significantly to assume that some mix of sounds would come about only in semantically associated terms. I as soon as outlined the symbolic (probably onomatopoeic, scary) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and experienced to protect my unoriginal notion versus the existence of grace, the gentlest phrase one can picture.
Viewed from this perspective, the background of twerp also presents some curiosity. Two of its rhyming associates (slurp and burp) are even much less attractive than these of twerk. (Chirp is not also dignified both the Latinism stirp is bookish and occurs almost never.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (equally penned many years right after the word was in use) trace it to a mix of a provided and a loved ones name (T.W. Earp). This speculation is not unbelievable (assess namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, primarily based on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, between hundreds of “words from names”) but maybe a minimal also fantastic to be correct. Most likely twerp ~ twirp “midget fool an obnoxious person” had some forex at Oxford before long just after the Initial Earth War, and the identify T. W. Earp (a true human being and an Oxonian) gave increase to a witticism no just one could resist. The term gained universal currency as very low slang before long right after its to start with attestation. This reality also speaks towards the jocular origin of twerp amid a coterie of college pals.
However, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not have conviction. In accordance to one, twerp owes its origin to Danish tvær “running all the way throughout, diagonal.” This etymology was rejected as before long as it was suggested and for fantastic cause. How could a twentieth-century English slang phrase (a noun) be a phonetic alteration of a Modern day Danish adjective? According to a different 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, whilst lacking cognates in the relaxation of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages for good, as evidenced by Old Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Aged Icelandic dvergr, Middle Large German getwerk, plural Modern day German Zwerg, and other equivalent varieties. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not arrive from an outdoors supply (these kinds of a supply does not exist reference to Danish is a poor joke, and, incidentally, the very same word exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no system recognized to English historic phonetics would have changed dwarf to twerp. A putting coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.
It shouldn’t appear as a shock that the contemporary verb twerk has a variant twerp: these kinds of coinages usually have “inconsequential” variants. However, the most common English words beginning with tw– are of program all those akin to the numeral two. In Contemporary English, only the spelling reminds us that hundreds of years ago two was pronounced with tw-. (Regardless of my continual aversion to etymological spelling, I would potentially keep w in two, to protect it affinity with twelve, 20, twin, twilight, twine, twice, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs below far too. The noun designates a rope manufactured of two threads, a twirl, and refers to different distortions. Therefore the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Specifically attribute are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Small German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the exact same that means). Twig “a modest shoot of a tree” seems to be akin to some terms for “fork.” If this is legitimate, then a twig once denoted a forked department, an object with two prongs. How it obtained its contemporary indicating stays unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a picture of a little department, nevertheless it is lesser than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens hint to the vicissitudes in the fate of his hero when he identified as him Twist? Just after all, it was he, fairly than Mr. Bumble, who invented the identify.)
It is anybody’s guess whether the notion of remaining divided into two components influenced the semantic growth of twirl, twitch, and the rest. Such ties can rarely be reconstructed with self-confidence. Some tw-words have almost nothing to do with individuals currently being reviewed below. Among the them are twill and tweed (pointed out over), the other twig (“to understand”) ordinarily derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Old Engl. æt-witan (examine æ like a in Engl. at), which shed its prefix and currently seems to be like a simplex. Examine mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the phrase aphetic for these phrases.) Tweezers has a fairly sophisticated record. Twee– in it is an aphetic variety of French étuis “case,” but I surprise whether the truth that medical doctors used to carry a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, performed a function in the word’s enhancement. On the other hand, a comprehensive dialogue of these nuances would consider us much too significantly afield. In this submit, we, merry twerkers, have been predominantly interested in things not heading past the understanding of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins…And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on phrase origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears in this article, each Wednesday. Deliver your etymology issue to him care of web [email protected] he’ll do his best to stay away from responding with “origin not known.”
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Picture credit score: Poster depicting Snow White with the prince surrounded by the 7 Dwarfs by Aida McKenzie. New York Metropolis W.P.A. Artwork Venture, [between 1936 and 1941]. Community domain through Library of Congress.