The Oxford English Dictionary has included the verb to "twerk" in its June additions
The dance move known as "twerking" has recently been associated with Miley Cyrus
But the dictionary puts its first reference to the word's usage as a verb to a 1848 poem
Move over Miley Cyrus. It appears strait-laced Victorian ancestors were “twerking” nearly 150 years before the birth of the “Wrecking Ball” singer, who caused a storm with her raunchy performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.
“Twerk” has this month been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, setting the word in academic stone. The first listed reference to its use happened in 1848, while it was referred to as a noun even earlier.
“The use of twerk to describe a type of dancing which emphasizes the performer’s posterior originated in the early 1990s in the New Orleans ‘bounce’ music scene, but the word itself seems to have its origins more than 170 years before,” writes the OED’s Katherine Connor Martin in an explanatory note.
“It was in use in English as a noun by 1820 (originally spelled ‘twirk’), referring to ‘a twisting or jerking movement; a twitch’: ‘Really the Germans do allow themselves such twists & twirks of the pen, that it would puzzle any one’ (Charles Clairmont, Letter, 26 Feb. 1820),” she says.
Twerk was added to the OED’s online version in 2013 as part of a quarterly update of “current English,” but while that edition changes, the Oxford English Dictionary is an historical record – meaning the word will never be removed.
The dictionary’s first definition of the verb to twerk, is: “To move (something) with a twitching, twisting, or jerking motion.”
It refers to twerking’s use – then spelled with an “i” – in an 1848 poem by Richard Kelsey on the defense of Wessex by Alfred the Great. Kelsey wrote: “In vain he twirks his near-han’ spur, In vain his red-challers threaten war An’ fierce eyne bleeze …”
“Harper’s Monthly Magazine” unwittingly mashed up some elements of Cyrus’ booty-popping dance with her country and western alter-ego “Hannah Montana” in 1932 when it published the line: “A leaf blew across the barnyard and a puff-ball of a kitten rushed after it, tail twirking.”
Even more presciently, the dictionary refers to the 1952 Washington Post declaration that “Washington cliff-dwellers are twittering, twerking, and titillating.” (The OED notes this figurative use may have been referring to sound rather than movement: we can only assume that any similarity to real social media networks dead or living is purely coincidental.)
The secondary meaning of twerking, the OED says, is: “To dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner, using thrusting movements of the bottom and hips while in a low, squatting stance.”
Now that sounds more like the moves thrust into the limelight by Cyrus.
However, the dictionary’s first attribution to the secondary meaning name checks a song by D.J Jubilee in 1993: “Do the Jubilee, all… Shake, baby, shake, baby, shake, shake, shake… Twerk, baby, twerk, baby, twerk, twerk, twerk… Twerk it, all … Take your clothes off.”
Its last reference is an August 2013 article on twerking – which points to the Live Crew video for the song “Pop That Pussy,” featuring women twerking in a pool. No explicit reference to Miley then – but rather a lot of explicit content for such a weighty tome.
So, if making it to the venerable Oxford English Dictionary breaks down that final twerking barrier for you, join more than 30 million others and make use of the instructions on the YouTube video below. Even Helen Mirren has rocked out this move.