Twerking, meh make their way into the Oxford dictionary

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Jun 26, 2015 01:06 IST

After ‘twerk’ – which refers to a dance involving thrusting movements of the bottom and hips – entered the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) some years ago, ‘twerking’ is among new words added in 2015, its editors have announced.

It has now been revealed that ‘twerk’ is not exactly a new word; it was first used in 1820 as a noun, meaning ‘a twisting or jerking movement; a twitch’, originally spelled as ‘twirk’. This is the first example of the noun found by OED’s researchers, from a letter to the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley.

According to Katherine Connor Martin of the Oxford University Press, the noun eventually developed other senses, referring to ‘an ineffectual or worthless person; a fool, a ‘jerk’ by 1928; to ‘a (minor) change or variation, especially of an odd or negative type; a twist’ by 1940; and, by the late 1990s, to the notorious dance.

Other new words that entered into the dictionary include ‘twitterati’, ‘meh’ and ‘fo shizzle’. The OED records how words and meanings have changed over time.

Several Indian words entered the dictionary over the centuries, but the latest update includes words from Philippine English, Canadian and South African English.

The new Canadian words include the loanwords depanneur (‘convenience store’), from Canadian French, inukshuk (‘a structure of rough stones stacked in the form of a human figure’), from Eastern Canadian Inuit, and the Italian-English compound mangia-cake (from Italian mangia ‘eat’ and English cake, a derogatory term used by some Canadians of Italian descent to refer to a non-Italian).

Words for South Africa English include the word mahala (for nothing, gratis), from the Nguni and Sotho languages. More recent additions to the South African vocabulary are the slang word zef (common or ‘trashy’), which originated in the 1990s as an abbreviation of Zephyr, a model of Ford car, and the term crown birthday—the birthday on which the numeral of one’s age matches that of the day of the month.

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