Oxford Dictionaries Online added a whole new batch of words to its latest edition on Wednesday (August 28), including the now infamous "twerk." But if your first thought is that Miley Cyrus' teddy bear twerk-a-thon at the 2013 Video Music Awards had something to do it, you may be surprised.
According to a representative from the OD (not to be confused with the historical Oxford English Dictionary), the immortalization and legitimization of the word had nothing to do with the ex-Disney star. The Head of US Dictionaries, Katherine Connor Martin, told MTV News that the words added today to the online version of the dictionary were decided on months ahead of publication — back in the spring.
That means "twerk," "buzzworthy" and "selfie" were locked and loaded before Miley took the stage Sunday and twerked all over Robin Thicke as part of her "We Can't Stop" performance.
As for how the word was chosen for inclusion, Martin said that a few factors are taken into account. "Frequency [of use] is very important, but we look at a variety of different sources," she explained. "We have 'corpora' — so those are sets of electronic text that are supposed to be representative of the English language, so we can see changes happening and identify new words that are coming into use that way."
The team also has a watch list of words that the editors of the ODO have "identified as being new and noteworthy," Martin said. "We assess those for frequency and also for a breadth of usage."
Twerk was first put on the watch list during the summer of 2012, Martin said, referencing an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that named twerk one of the most-Googled words in Australia at the time.
"That's something that we're always aware of," she continued. "If people are encountering a word that is unfamiliar — and [twerk] is an unfamiliar word — if you encounter this word for the first time, you have no idea what it means. There's nothing in it that would help you to make sense of it. Whereas selfie, from context, you could probably figure out. ... Twerk, I think just baffles people."
The definition of twerk, according to the ODO, is: "verb, dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance/" Its origin is listed as "1990s: probably an alteration of 'work.' "
Martin said that the assumption is that the word's origins are English, and that it came out of the Bounce music scene in New Orleans. "The first example that we know of is in a DJ Jubilee track called 'Do the Jubilee All' from 1993," she said.
Still, Martin and the rest of the Oxford Dictionaries team were not wholly able to pin down exactly where the word came from. "There are a lot of wildly divergent stories about what the origin of it might be ... but the most likely origin is that it's basically an alteration of 'work.' The way a person could say 'work it' to a person who's dancing, you can also say, 'twerk it,' " she reasoned. "The 't' might come from 'twist' or 'twitch' blended with 'work.' Or it might just be arbitrary. This is probably a mystery that no one will ever solve."