Making the World More Understandable

Tag Archives: short attention span

Is “Twerk” Really a Word?

Admission number 1: I’m not sure I would recognize a twerk if it were performed on my coffee table while I’m watching Criminal Minds.

Admission number 2: I fell for the hype that the Oxford English Dictionary added “twerk” to its hallowed pages.

The truth is that the Oxford Dictionaries Online, a source for the current use of English, documents members of the vernacular including some of the latest addition: twerk, selfie, and squee.

The OED defines "tush" as tusk, not Yiddish for rear-end. Photo by L. Nicoles 2013
The OED defines “tush” as tusk, not Yiddish for rear-end.
Photo by L. Nicoles 2013

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the historical record of the English language. Only words that truly stand the test of time become members; and once a part of the OED, a word is there forever.

And “twerk” has not stood the test of time.

Who Cares?

Well, as a word nerd, I do. I care for several reasons:

1) I grew up believing the OED to be the highest standard of the English language.

2) I firmly believe that twerk does not live up to the OED standard.

3) Even a clearly made point has no value if no one reads it.

The Oxford University Press, overseer of both the Oxford Dictionaries Online and the OED, did clearly explain the difference between the two sources in their announcement of the additions of the new entries. However, a note at the end of an announcement is not a good place for an important distinction in this day of limited attention.

The Curse of the Short Attention Span

There is an entire industry (SEO anyone?) geared towards making sure a website appears on the first page of a Google search. Because who looks past the first page?

Most marketing instruction stresses putting the “good stuff” at the top because no one scrolls past the first page.

In this age of doing more faster, people want their information now, not a few paragraphs later.

However the internet may exacerbate the condition, it is far from being the cause of society’s short attention span. Journalism teaches the lead. This is the part of the story with the who, what, when, where, why, and how – and it is generally the first paragraph. Journalism also teaches that content is removed from the bottom to make it fit – so put the least important stuff there.

Journalism has been teaching these things since well before the internet came to town. Basically, since people have been passing information in the form of “news,” we have pandered to, and encouraged, the short attention span.

Back to Twerk

(I love how that sounds, and it was completely unintended.)

Language is an evolving thing. We create new words, phase out old ones, and have informal as well as formal usage. This is a good thing – especially for us word nerds.

So, in answer of the first question: yes, “twerk” is a word. It has an accepted spelling and meaning. It is not, however, a part of the formal English language and use of it can be as inappropriate as some say the dance move is.

DISCLAIMER: My gratitude to Forrest Wickman of Slate – a general interest web magazine that I want to spend more time reading – for teaching me the errors of my ways regarding the purity of the OED.

-Lorrie Nicoles