Word Watch 2013: Twerk

twerk, bear, dancing

This year, the word twerk bounced its way into the universal consciousness of English speakers thanks to the controversial performance of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards in late August. Only a few days later, Oxford Dictionaries Online announced its quarterly update, listing twerk among the new additions (additions that had been planned months before “Twerkgate”). This led to public outcry against making this term “official.” As lexicographers are quick to remind twerk deniers, it’s not an entry in a dictionary that makes a word “official,” but rather its widespread usage. So what’s the story of twerk, and why are lexicographers taking this bit of pop culture seriously?

Twerk entered English in the early 1990s by way of the New Orleans bounce-music scene. It’s likely an alteration of work, as in “work it,” though etymologist are unsure of its exact origins (Anatoly Liberman thinks the tw might come from twist or twitch). In our next update, Dictionary.com will define< twerk as follows: “to dance to pop music in a very sensual way, typically by thrusting or shaking the buttocks and hips while in a squatting or bent-over position.”

Whatever your stance on twerk or twerking is, you’re likely to have at least some opinion on this term and the discussions surrounding it. While some lexicographers predict it to be a flash in the pan, others feel that it deserves to be the 2013 Word of the Year. Do you think twerk should be the 2013 Word of the Year?

Stay tuned for our next installment of Word Watch 2013; we will explore a term that was catapulted from an unassuming verb phrase to a catchphrase for gender equality in the workplace. Any guesses what it might be?


  1. Unknown -  March 27, 2014 - 3:04 pm

    U known a lot of stuff has been going on through 2013-2014, but nothing as crazy as this phase.

  2. Cliff -  March 25, 2014 - 11:01 am

    The word “Twerk” started like all cool things in Hip Hop 20 years ago.

  3. Hammy -  March 2, 2014 - 3:29 pm


  4. Hammy -  March 2, 2014 - 3:28 pm

    you rock bear woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo :) :) :) :) :) LOL LOL LOL

  5. aisheeya -  February 25, 2014 - 10:04 pm

    lolzz..i dont really know what to write, so sozz :)

  6. James -  February 13, 2014 - 5:52 pm

    Trending is non-stoppable and governed by emotion, not by reason. It will exist and last as long as its use makes more people feel good and convenient in transmitting what they want to mean and be fun.

  7. Wow! -  February 12, 2014 - 8:50 am

    why are people so freaking mad about twerking? Many people do it AROUND THE F*CKING GLOBE so why are people stressing? I bet yall mad cause you CAN’T twerk! If ”aint” is in the dictionary so should ”twerk”. And OMFG i am done with all of yall saying its vulgar its wrong your booty is having a seizure temporarily omg waaaaaa waaaaa! what are babies suck it up cause if it is added i will be happy as hell!

    P.S: Twerk=make i{t work} stupid mofos!

  8. Joel Barton -  February 6, 2014 - 9:53 am

    to twerk one must shake the booty without shaking the legs/thighs

  9. Jazzy -  February 1, 2014 - 4:00 pm

    What’s twerking? ^_^

  10. Twerking God -  January 30, 2014 - 7:18 am

    Twerk it out, guys.

  11. Sarah -  January 29, 2014 - 6:51 pm

    *your world

  12. Sarah -  January 29, 2014 - 6:50 pm

    “The limits of your language are the limits of the world.” Ludwig Wittgenstein

  13. {Curly_Brace} -  January 22, 2014 - 5:29 pm

    Umm, no. Use your brain people! Stick with the ignorant words we have and don’t add new ones! Scratch that, take ignorant words out of your vocabulary.

  14. Kamark -  January 22, 2014 - 4:23 pm

    Twerk is a term that originates from the down south hip-hop community in the ’90s. It is old, not cool, and the use of it is too much to handle. I am beyond tired of hearing the word.

  15. Isaac -  January 20, 2014 - 4:09 pm

    Tweeting while working… Call that twerking!!!!!!! Lolololololol

  16. cabeza roja -  January 19, 2014 - 5:09 am

    Twerk should be outlawed. :)

  17. hey -  January 15, 2014 - 5:14 pm

    is that bear twerking? if he is I THINK HE’S WEIRD ;)

  18. Deirdre -  January 15, 2014 - 2:21 pm

    Most “official” words start out as slang- or rather, an off-the-cuff, in-the- moment response to a need or desire to communicate something.
    Slang is the most fun when it is artistic and expressive. I like “twerk” about as much as the word “blog”. Not very much. :-)

    On the note about the use of the word “sensual” to mean “sexual”-that is an important distinction. Someone can have a sensual experience of a good meal or a beautiful sunset. When you see the Motion Picture Association use the phrase “Scenes of Sensuality” it is clear how the word “sensual” has been misused. I would also argue that the word “Sexuality” encompasses a concept much larger than the sexual act itself, which is in fact what they are referring to.

  19. Alyssa -  January 14, 2014 - 9:06 am

    I think “twerk” is really dumb.

  20. Sarah -  January 11, 2014 - 6:55 pm

    Also, I don’t like to twerk, but I’m not just going to stop people from doing it because who cares if I don’t like it but other people do? It’s their opinion and the people that enjoy it don’t bother us the way we bother them.

  21. Sarah -  January 11, 2014 - 6:52 pm

    You can’t just say that twerking is vulgar or stupid. People might have said the same thing about past dance moves when it was popular around that time. Dance moves like the waltz for example had received similar thoughts and opinions when it came out, but right now, waltzing seems far from inappropriate. Ten years from now, twerking would be seen as something silly rather than inappropriate and sensual. And who knows? There might be a new dance move that will have the same responses twerking had. And by the way, just because the work “twerk” isn’t in a dictionary entry and it has many negative reception it doesn’t mean that it can’t be Word of the Year.

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