Word Watch 2013: Twerk

twerk, bear, dancing

This year, the word twerk bounced its way into the universal consciousness of English speakers thanks to the controversial performance of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards in late August. Only a few days later, Oxford Dictionaries Online announced its quarterly update, listing
among the new additions (additions that had been planned months before “Twerkgate”). This led to public outcry against making this term “official.” As lexicographers are quick to remind twerk deniers, it’s not an entry in a dictionary that makes a word “official,” but rather its widespread usage. So what’s the story of twerk, and why are lexicographers taking this bit of pop culture seriously?

Twerk entered English in the early 1990s by way of the New Orleans bounce-music scene. It’s likely an alteration of work, as in “work it,” though etymologist are unsure of its exact origins (Anatoly Liberman thinks the tw might come from twist or twitch). In our next update, Dictionary.com will define< twerk as follows: “to dance to pop music in a very sensual way, typically by thrusting or shaking the buttocks and hips while in a squatting or bent-over position.”

Whatever your stance on twerk or twerking is, you’re likely to have at least some opinion on this term and the discussions surrounding it. While some lexicographers predict it to be a flash in the pan, others feel that it deserves to be the 2013 Word of the Year. Do you think twerk should be the 2013 Word of the Year?

Stay tuned for our next installment of Word Watch 2013; we will explore a term that was catapulted from an unassuming verb phrase to a catchphrase for gender equality in the workplace. Any guesses what it might be?

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