Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

Twerk: A Celebration

It's hard to find a family-friendly photo to represent "twerk." Lego, maybe?
Credit Ochre Jelly / Flickr / Creative Commons

As 2013 fades into memory, along with it will probably fade the word “twerk.”

Why bring it up now, you ask, just when we thought we could free ourselves from the image of Miley Cyrus gyrating as if stricken by some heretofore unknown neurological condition?

Well, not for what the word twerk is, but for what it represents. As a longtime teacher of English composition and literature, I have had to adopt a much more prescriptive stance on language than it’s in my nature to take. That role has led certain people to assume that I see words like twerk as they do: linguistic abominations, sullying our writing and speech with their slangy filth.

Twerk, this way of thinking says, is simply not fit for those of us well schooled in the right and the proper. But my background is actually in creative writing, and from that standpoint, I revel in words like twerk, “snark,” “selfie” and “hooptie.” Not only are these words fun to say, but they serve a necessary purpose: describing something new that has come into the world.

Twerking is a demonstrable dance move (though Ms. Cyrus’s example might not be definitive). To reference that dance move, we need a word. There’s no shame in that. It’s not up to the self-appointed language police to decide the fate of twerk. That is up to the people who use the word and do the dance.

The dance of language is, like its users, continually innovative. And it needs to be. Even if we didn’t require new words to describe new things, we are, by nature, creative beings. The term for the words we make up is “neologism,” and no less a radical than William Shakespeare was well known for them, many of which we still use today.

So maybe instead of celebrating the death of twerk, we should instead celebrate a verbal culture rich enough to have created it in the first place.