By Anatoly Liberman
I made a decision to toss a appear at a number of tw-phrases although producing my past post on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk takes place with wonderful regularity. The verb indicates “to go one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not however produced its way into OED and perhaps under no circumstances will (allow us hope so), but its origin barely poses a issue: twerk need to be a mix of twist (or twitch) and get the job done (or jerk), a shut relative of these types of verbs as squirm (possibly a mix of dialectal squir “to toss with a jerk” and worm) and twirl (? twist + whirl). When blends are coined “in basic sight” — as happened to brunch, motel, and Eurasia — no one particular has inquiries about their descent. At present, mixing has become a tiresome customized, and the stodgy products of grafting a person term on one more are normally as clear as Texaco or Amtrak and equally inspiring. But no one can prove that twirl is in fact a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will forever stay “unknown.” Be that as it may perhaps, twerk does look like a blend, even while we don’t know who, where by, and when introduced it into the linguistic area of North The us.
Most folks perception an ingredient of seem symbolism in text like twerk, even regardless of its rhyming associates jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries tell us that quirk is also of mysterious origin and that jerk is a symbolic formation. Shirk is obscure and, in accordance to some authorities, may perhaps have professional the impact of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have average believe in in the shirk–Schurke relationship. Initial j– is this sort of a prevalent 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: examine, in addition to the phrases 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-, although other people do not, specifically since, for case in point, tweed and twill are properly respectable. It would be too a great deal to hope that some blend of appears would come about only in semantically similar terms. I as soon as stated the symbolic (possibly onomatopoeic, frightening) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and had to protect my unoriginal thought towards the existence of grace, the gentlest term a person can consider.
Seen from this viewpoint, the record of twerp also provides some fascination. Two of its rhyming partners (slurp and burp) are even fewer eye-catching than people of twerk. (Chirp is not too dignified both the Latinism stirp is bookish and occurs rarely.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (equally published a long time right after the word was in use) trace it to a mix of a offered and a spouse and children name (T.W. Earp). This speculation is not unbelievable (compare namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, based on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, amid hundreds of “words from names”) but probably a tiny way too very good to be correct. Probably twerp ~ twirp “midget idiot an obnoxious person” experienced some forex at Oxford soon after the Very first Earth War, and the identify T. W. Earp (a genuine man or woman and an Oxonian) gave increase to a witticism no one could resist. The word obtained universal forex as lower slang quickly immediately after its first attestation. This fact also speaks versus the jocular origin of twerp between a coterie of college pals.
Sadly, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not carry conviction. According to just one, twerp owes its origin to Danish tvær “running all the way throughout, diagonal.” This etymology was turned down as quickly as it was prompt and for good purpose. How could a twentieth-century English slang phrase (a noun) be a phonetic alteration of a Modern-day Danish adjective? In accordance to an additional guess, twerp is a doublet of dwarf. The senses correspond completely, but the route from dwarf to twerp are unable to be reconstructed. Dwarf, despite the fact that missing cognates in the rest of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages forever, as evidenced by Previous Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Aged Icelandic dvergr, Middle Large German getwerk, plural Fashionable German Zwerg, and other identical varieties. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not occur from an outdoors supply (this sort of a source does not exist reference to Danish is a lousy joke, and, incidentally, the exact same term exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no system regarded to English historical phonetics would have transformed dwarf to twerp. A putting coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.
It should not come as a surprise that the modern-day verb twerk has a variant twerp: this kind of coinages generally have “inconsequential” variants. Nevertheless, the most common English terms starting with tw– are of training course people akin to the numeral two. In Modern day English, only the spelling reminds us that hundreds of years ago two was pronounced with tw-. (Irrespective of my continual aversion to etymological spelling, I would maybe keep w in two, to preserve it affinity with twelve, 20, twin, twilight, twine, twice, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs listed here much too. The noun designates a rope made of two threads, a twirl, and refers to numerous distortions. Hence the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Especially attribute are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Very low German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the same that means). Twig “a tiny shoot of a tree” would seem to be akin to some text for “fork.” If this is accurate, then a twig after denoted a forked department, an object with two prongs. How it acquired its fashionable that means remains unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a photo of a little branch, while it is lesser than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens hint to the vicissitudes in the fate of his hero when he called him Twist? Right after all, it was he, fairly than Mr. Bumble, who invented the name.)
It is anybody’s guess whether or not the strategy of being divided into two sections motivated the semantic progress of twirl, twitch, and the rest. Such ties can rarely be reconstructed with assurance. Some tw-words and phrases have absolutely nothing to do with people becoming discussed listed here. Amongst them are twill and tweed (stated previously mentioned), the other twig (“to understand”) traditionally derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Old Engl. æt-witan (go through æ like a in Engl. at), which lost its prefix and currently seems to be like a simplex. Compare mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the time period aphetic for such terms.) Tweezers has a instead challenging historical past. Twee– in it is an aphetic form of French étuis “case,” but I wonder whether the point that physicians applied to have a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, performed a role in the word’s progress. On the other hand, a in-depth dialogue of this sort of nuances would get us as well far afield. In this write-up, we, merry twerkers, have been largely interested in items not likely outside of the being familiar with of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word 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, seems in this article, each and every Wednesday. Send out your etymology problem to him treatment of [email protected] he’ll do his most effective to prevent responding with “origin not known.”
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Image credit history: Poster depicting Snow White with the prince surrounded by the Seven Dwarfs by Aida McKenzie. New York Town W.P.A. Art Job, [between 1936 and 1941]. General public domain through Library of Congress.