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“Twerking”enters dictionary

Posted on 09.25.2013

Breaking news: Apparently Miley Cyrus can’t stop, and won’t stop, twerking. Better news: There is now a word behind the booty-shaking.

Before you cringe at the way I just nonchalantly slid “twerking” into this article, please know that “twerk” is indeed now a word, thanks to a recent quarterly update to Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) last month.

This graduation from slang to fame came with the induction of many other words that you are likely familiar with: “selfie,” “vom,” “food baby” and “jorts,” just to name a few.

After the update was announced, many people were equally as disgusted with the word’s new home in an Oxford dictionary as they were with Cyrus’ initial scandal on stage. I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first too.

Oxford Dictionaries Online defines “twerk” as a “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.”

Now, I think the definition of “twerk” definitely euphemizes Cyrus’ explicit choreography, that is, her unabashed humping with a hint of dancing. I’d love to be a lexicographer for Oxford who writes definitions for new words that start with t-w-e-r, but I just don’t think my definition would make the final copy-editing cut: “Twerk, verb: the quintessential slut dance of America, made famous by Miley Cyrus but practiced commonly in the nightclubs of ‘Merica.”

Just for the record, “slut,” too, is a word recognized and defined by ODO.

If you’re wanting to vom at the birth of these new words, you’re not alone. On Sept. 12, National Public Radio published an online article boasting the headline “The Internet’s ‘Twerk’ Effect Makes Dictionaries Less Complete” and arguing that the new addition of “twerk” and other slang has marginalized more meaningful changes in language.

But I disagree. We need the words we speak to be recognized, even if they seem silly or overly colloquial, even if they help euphemize a blatantly sexual performance better suited behind the Ms. Cyrus’ bedroom walls.

The presence of “twerk” in our modern dictionaries does not make them any less perfect or complete. In fact, it makes them more whole and more representative of our generation’s use of the language that defines us.

But in case you’re still queasy, rest assured that the new coining of this word is not a slippery slope that will lead to essays ridden with LOLs or YOLOs or nonchalant references to twerking or jort-wearing. It won’t—at least I hope not.

Although “twerk” is a new word, it still isn’t a standard or even widely accepted word in many discourses.  It cannot be found in the authoritative and esteemed Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The ODO is Oxford’s online and informal counterpart. According to the ODO blog, the dictionary’s content “focuses on current English and includes modern meanings and uses of words,” whereas the OED functions as more of a historical dictionary, compiled over time to track changes in language.

Still, the word “twerk” has a niche; it has a spot in some sort of discourse, and that gives worth to its status as a word. That niche might include pop culture, nightclubs, Twitter, blogs, the media and more. The fact that lexicographers have observed the word being used in multiple contexts is reason enough to record this word in the history of the English language.

At the very least, fifty years from now, we can enjoy the memories of the once-word twerk, just as we humor ourselves with other words of the past. (If your English teacher ever entertained you with a list of Shakespearean insults, you’ll know what I mean.)

Language is a constantly changing, moving body of our expression. To omit “twerk” when many of us are indeed using the word, whether in our own conversations or in our criticism of those who practice the verb, would be a linguistic crime.



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