How Old Is The Word “Twerk”?

The word twerk bounced its way into the universal consciousness of English speakers thanks to the controversial performance of Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

Only a few days later, Oxford Dictionaries Online announced its quarterly update, listing twerk 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?

Why are lexicographers taking this bit of pop culture seriously? It’s believed 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 etymologists are unsure of its exact origins (Anatoly Liberman thinks the tw might come from twist or twitch).

But in a 2015 update, the Oxford English Dictionary entry for twerk gave 1848 as the first date the word is used as a verb, meaning “to move (something) with a twitching, twisting, or jerking motion.” As a noun, it was first used in 1820 (albeit with a different spelling) in a letter to Frankenstein author Mary Shelley (“twists and twirks of the pen”). defines 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.”

Will we still be twerking in 2048?

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 felt that it deserved Word of the Year status when it burst onto the headlines in 2013.

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