To Twerk or Not to Twerk

Kate Baxendale

Oxford Dictionaries Online recently added popular colloquialisms such as “twerk” and “selfie” to its collection of words. According to an Aug. 28 Forbes article, upset concerning these latest additions is most likely due to what scholars call “prestige.”

We assign certain types of words, like words used in academic writing, hierarchal values they don’t have. Words used on the internet or slang terms associated with youth are not assigned prestige, but they are still considered valid because they are used to communicate. Certainly if you told your friend about someone “twerkin’ it” at the club last night she would know exactly what you meant.

I suppose then, as a journalism major, I assign said “prestige” to words and that explains my disappointment in the addition of “twerk” to the online dictionary. Thankfully, this word has only been added to Oxford Dictionaries Online. The more official Oxford English Dictionary rarely adds words. As I am writing this, Microsoft Word is underlining in red any form of the word “twerk” that I use. It may only be a matter of time until Word adds “twerk” to its own dictionary.

In case there is any confusion, allow me to provide you with ODO’s definition of “twerk:”

Twerk (v) informal – dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance

I understand ODO’s dedication to the preservation of a living, changing language, and its purpose of preserving such proud moments in American history. However, perhaps some of us don’t wish to remember such vulgar terms which are audaciously demonstrated on national television. Yes, a rant about twerking cannot exclude mention of Miley Cyrus’s 2013 MTV Video Music Awards performance.

Sadly, such a crude demonstration of “pop culture” like Cyrus’s surpasses Federal Communications Commission regulations, yet a woman breastfeeding her child is sometimes deemed indecent.

Many critics have called Cyrus’s performance downright racist. The former Disney star had African American backup dancers on stage for the sole purpose of using them as sexual objects. These women were just the background to Cyrus’s raunchy performance as she twerked all over the stage, spanking them and imitating sex acts with her backup dancers.

Twerking is associated with black music culture, and according to “The History of Twerking” compiled by VH1 the word “twerk” was first used on the New Orleans bounce scene in 1993. DJ Jubilee is claimed to be the first person to command dancers to twerk.

The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman highlighted the irony of the timing of the VMA performance, which occurred near the 50-year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Sadly, King omitted to say whether he also dreamed of ’little white girls from Tennessee mimicking anilingus on little black girls wearing giant animals on their backs‘, so it’s impossible to know how he would have reacted,” Freeman wrote.

Although many young people may attribute the word’s sudden rise to fame to Cyrus, Oxford Dictionaries’ Katherine Connor Martin told the Associated Press that twerking has been around for nearly two decades. The word’s origin is likely a variation of the word “work”, and perhaps the “t” was added as a combination of “work” and “twist” or “twitch,” according to Martin. “Twerk it” is likely the evolution of the phrase “work it,” as is commonly said to encourage dancers.

Others recognize that this type of provocative dance has been around for some time. A recent Facebook status on my newsfeed read, “I love how the media keeps talking about twerking like it’s something new…been twerking since ’04.”

This whole “twerk” phenomenon needs to come to a screeching halt. It is vulgar, unladylike and demeaning, and I am disgusted by how casually the word is thrown around by people my age and younger.

I may sound like your mother right now, but I beg you to justify why anyone would want 2013 to be remembered as the year of twerking. I seriously doubt you are looking forward to proudly explaining the definition of “twerk” to your grandchildren. Let’s clean up our act and try to redeem our reputation as the generation of selfies, hash tags and twerking.