Who would’ve guessed that of the 500 new phrases the Oxford English Dictionary added this year, “twerk” would be the one with the richest etymological history? Before you answer, consider some other candidates from this year’s class, like “meh” and “fo’shizzle.”
But, yes, it turns out that the word your mom texted you about on August 26, 2013 has a far richer and more nuanced history than any of us guessed. Researchers discovered the word was first used in 1820 – though it was originally spelled “twirk” – to describe a “twisting or jerking movement or twitch.” The modern spelling emerged in 1848.
“We are confident that it is the same origins as the dance,” Fiona McPherson, senior editor of Oxford English Dictionary, told the BBC. “I think it’s quite spectacular, the early origins for it. We were quite surprised.”
McPherson said the new entries had “earned their place” in the history of the English language – take her word for it.