By Anatoly Liberman
I decided to throw a search at a few tw-phrases whilst crafting my earlier write-up on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk happens with fantastic regularity. The verb suggests “to shift one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not still created its way into OED and perhaps by no means will (permit us hope so), but its origin barely poses a trouble: twerk must be a mix of twist (or twitch) and work (or jerk), a near relative of these types of 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 plain sight” — as took place to brunch, motel, and Eurasia — no just one has concerns about their descent. Presently, mixing has develop into a tiresome custom, and the stodgy merchandise of grafting one particular phrase on an additional are normally as transparent as Texaco or Amtrak and similarly inspiring. But no 1 can verify that twirl is certainly a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will eternally remain “unknown.” Be that as it may perhaps, twerk does search like a mix, even while we don’t know who, exactly where, and when introduced it into the linguistic room of North The us.
Most people sense an component of sound symbolism in words and phrases like twerk, even no matter of its rhyming companions jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries inform us that quirk is also of not known origin and that jerk is a symbolic development. Shirk is obscure and, according to some authorities, might have expert the influence of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have moderate belief in the shirk–Schurke link. Preliminary j– is these kinds of a widespread expressive substitute for sh– that I marvel whether or not jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– indicates a little something fidgety and inconsequential: look at, in addition to the terms cited higher than, tweak, twitter ~ Twitter, tweet, tweedle ~ twiddle ~ twizzle. As with blends, sound symbolism are not able to be “proved.” Some speakers listen to derogatory or humorous overtones in tw-, although others do not, specifically due to the fact, for case in point, tweed and twill are properly respectable. It would be way too significantly to count on that some mixture of seems would occur only in semantically connected text. I at the time mentioned the symbolic (perhaps onomatopoeic, horrifying) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and experienced to defend my unoriginal plan against the presence of grace, the gentlest term one particular can picture.
Viewed from this standpoint, the heritage of twerp also offers some interest. Two of its rhyming companions (slurp and burp) are even fewer desirable than those people of twerk. (Chirp is not far too dignified both the Latinism stirp is bookish and happens seldom.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (both equally prepared decades after the term was in use) trace it to a blend of a specified and a family members identify (T.W. Earp). This hypothesis is not improbable (assess namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, primarily based on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, amid hundreds of “words from names”) but maybe a minimal way too superior to be legitimate. Maybe twerp ~ twirp “midget fool an obnoxious person” had some forex at Oxford before long immediately after the Initially Globe War, and the name T. W. Earp (a actual man or woman and an Oxonian) gave rise to a witticism no just one could resist. The phrase obtained common currency as reduced slang before long after its initial attestation. This fact also speaks versus the jocular origin of twerp amid a coterie of university good friends.
Sad to say, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not have conviction. According to one particular, twerp owes its origin to Danish tvær “running all the way throughout, diagonal.” This etymology was turned down as quickly as it was proposed and for very good purpose. How could a twentieth-century English slang phrase (a noun) be a phonetic alteration of a Fashionable Danish adjective? According to another 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, although missing cognates in the relaxation of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages permanently, as evidenced by Previous Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Outdated Icelandic dvergr, Middle Superior German getwerk, plural Fashionable German Zwerg, and other very similar varieties. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not come from an outside the house resource (these types of a source does not exist reference to Danish is a poor joke, and, incidentally, the identical word exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no approach regarded to English historic phonetics would have altered dwarf to twerp. A placing coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.
It shouldn’t arrive as a surprise that the modern-day verb twerk has a variant twerp: this kind of coinages normally have “inconsequential” variants. Nevertheless, the most frequent English words commencing with tw– are of course individuals akin to the numeral two. In Modern day English, only the spelling reminds us that centuries in the past two was pronounced with tw-. (Irrespective of my continuous aversion to etymological spelling, I would perhaps keep w in two, to maintain it affinity with twelve, 20, twin, twilight, twine, twice, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs listed here way too. The noun designates a rope built of two threads, a twirl, and refers to many distortions. As a result the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Particularly characteristic are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Lower German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the same that means). Twig “a compact shoot of a tree” appears to be to be akin to some text for “fork.” If this is real, then a twig the moment denoted a forked department, an item with two prongs. How it obtained its fashionable which means stays unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a image of a little branch, nevertheless it is lesser than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens trace to the vicissitudes in the fate of his hero when he known as him Twist? Immediately after all, it was he, alternatively than Mr. Bumble, who invented the name.)
It is anybody’s guess no matter whether the idea of being divided into two elements motivated the semantic advancement of twirl, twitch, and the rest. Such ties can rarely be reconstructed with confidence. Some tw-terms have almost nothing to do with those becoming discussed right here. Amid them are twill and tweed (pointed out above), the other twig (“to understand”) historically derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Previous Engl. æt-witan (go through æ like a in Engl. at), which shed its prefix and now appears to be like like a simplex. Assess mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the term aphetic for these text.) Tweezers has a somewhat challenging background. Twee– in it is an aphetic form of French étuis “case,” but I question irrespective of whether the simple fact that physicians applied to carry a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, played a role in the word’s progress. Nevertheless, a specific dialogue of such nuances would take us way too considerably afield. In this write-up, we, merry twerkers, have been generally interested in points not heading over and above the comprehension 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 word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, seems here, every single Wednesday. Ship your etymology problem to him treatment of [email protected] he’ll do his ideal to stay clear of responding with “origin unidentified.”
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Graphic credit: Poster depicting Snow White with the prince surrounded by the 7 Dwarfs by Aida McKenzie. New York City W.P.A. Artwork Project, [between 1936 and 1941]. General public area by means of Library of Congress.