By Anatoly Liberman
I decided to throw a look at a several tw-words and phrases even though producing my earlier article on the origin of dance. In descriptions of grinding and the Harlem Shake, twerk happens with great regularity. The verb usually means “to shift one’s buttocks in a suggestive way.” It has not still produced its way into OED and probably under no circumstances will (let us hope so), but its origin rarely poses a problem: twerk ought to be a mix of twist (or twitch) and perform (or jerk), a close relative of these kinds of verbs as squirm (perhaps 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 1 has concerns about their descent. Currently, blending has come to be a tiresome customized, and the stodgy goods of grafting just one word on yet another are ordinarily as clear as Texaco or Amtrak and similarly inspiring. But no one particular can establish that twirl is without a doubt a sum of twist and whirl. Its origin will endlessly continue to be “unknown.” Be that as it might, twerk does glimpse like a blend, even however we do not know who, in which, and when introduced it into the linguistic room of North The united states.
Most men and women perception an element of audio symbolism in terms like twerk, even irrespective of its rhyming associates jerk, quirk, and shirk. By the way, dictionaries notify us that quirk is also of mysterious origin and that jerk is a symbolic formation. Shirk is obscure and, according to some authorities, might have knowledgeable the influence of German Schurke “scoundrel rogue.” I have average have faith in in the shirk–Schurke link. First j– is this kind of a typical expressive substitute for sh– that I wonder whether or not jerk is a doublet of shirk or vice versa. In English, tw– suggests a little something fidgety and inconsequential: review, in addition to the words and phrases cited previously mentioned, tweak, twitter ~ Twitter, tweet, tweedle ~ twiddle ~ twizzle. As with blends, sound symbolism can’t be “proved.” Some speakers hear derogatory or humorous overtones in tw-, when others do not, primarily simply because, for illustration, tweed and twill are perfectly respectable. It would be as well a great deal to assume that some mix of seems would manifest only in semantically relevant words and phrases. I the moment talked about the symbolic (possibly onomatopoeic, scary) character of English gr- (grim, grind, growl, grueling, and so forth) and had to protect my unoriginal idea towards the presence of grace, the gentlest phrase 1 can visualize.
Seen from this perspective, the historical past of twerp also offers some interest. Two of its rhyming associates (slurp and burp) are even much less beautiful than people of twerk. (Chirp is not as well dignified either the Latinism stirp is bookish and occurs almost never.) No citations of twerp in OED predate 1923. Two of the citations (the two penned decades right after the word was in use) trace it to a mix of a offered and a relatives title (T.W. Earp). This speculation is not inconceivable (review namby-pamby “lackadaisical”, primarily based on Ambrose Philips, or dunce, amongst hundreds of “words from names”) but probably a tiny as well good to be accurate. Possibly twerp ~ twirp “midget idiot an obnoxious person” experienced some currency at Oxford shortly just after the Initially Environment War, and the name T. W. Earp (a serious individual and an Oxonian) gave increase to a witticism no one particular could resist. The term obtained universal currency as reduced slang soon soon after its initially attestation. This actuality also speaks against the jocular origin of twerp amongst a coterie of college mates.
However, two “serious” etymologies of twerp do not carry conviction. According to 1, 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 excellent purpose. 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 route from dwarf to twerp can not be reconstructed. Dwarf, despite the fact that lacking cognates in the relaxation of Indo-European, has existed in the Germanic languages permanently, as evidenced by Outdated Engl. dweorg ~ dweorh, Old Icelandic dvergr, Center Substantial German getwerk, plural Modern-day German Zwerg, and other related forms. Twerp could not be a borrowing that is, it could not come from an outside the house source (these kinds of a supply does not exist reference to Danish is a poor joke, and, incidentally, the exact phrase exists in Swedish and Norwegian), and no method recognized to English historical phonetics would have altered dwarf to twerp. A striking coincidence, an ingenious conjecture, but an unacceptable etymology.
It should not come as a shock that the fashionable verb twerk has a variant twerp: this kind of coinages ordinarily have “inconsequential” variants. On the other hand, the most widespread English terms starting with tw– are of course those akin to the numeral two. In Present day English, only the spelling reminds us that generations in the past two was pronounced with tw-. (Despite my steady aversion to etymological spelling, I would perhaps retain w in two, to maintain it affinity with twelve, 20, twin, twilight, twine, 2 times, and twain ~ Twain.) Twist belongs right here also. The noun designates a rope designed of two threads, a twirl, and refers to different distortions. Hence the verb twist “to intertwine curve wring.” Specially characteristic are the Germanic congeners of twist: German Zwist ~ Reduced German twist “quarrel, discord” Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish also have tvist (the very same that means). Twig “a small shoot of a tree” appears to be akin to some words and phrases for “fork.” If this is true, then a twig once denoted a forked department, an object with two prongs. How it obtained its contemporary which means remains unclear. German Zweig does not conjure up a photo of a small branch, nevertheless it is smaller than an Ast “bough.” (Did Dickens hint to the vicissitudes in the destiny of his hero when he identified as him Twist? Following all, it was he, instead than Mr. Bumble, who invented the title.)
It is anybody’s guess whether or not the notion of staying divided into two components affected the semantic advancement of twirl, twitch, and the relaxation. Such ties can rarely be reconstructed with confidence. Some tw-words and phrases have absolutely nothing to do with these currently being discussed listed here. Amid them are twill and tweed (outlined over), the other twig (“to understand”) historically derived from Irish, and twit (“find fault with”) from Previous Engl. æt-witan (study æ like a in Engl. at), which missing its prefix and right now seems to be like a simplex. Compare mend from amend. (James A. H. Murray of OED fame coined the expression aphetic for these words and phrases.) Tweezers has a fairly sophisticated record. Twee– in it is an aphetic form of French étuis “case,” but I ponder whether the point that medical practitioners made use of to carry a pair of ’twees, with twee so conveniently resembling two, played a position in the word’s improvement. Nevertheless, a specific dialogue of this kind of nuances would take us much too much afield. In this article, we, merry twerkers, have been predominantly interested in things not likely past the comprehending of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word 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 here, every Wednesday. Send your etymology problem to him treatment of [email protected] he’ll do his finest to stay clear of responding with “origin not known.”
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Impression credit score: Poster depicting Snow White with the prince surrounded by the Seven Dwarfs by Aida McKenzie. New York City W.P.A. Art Undertaking, [between 1936 and 1941]. Community domain by way of Library of Congress.