Thursday 30 October 2014

Dictionary may have the final word on 'twerking', but I don't have to like it

Published 29/08/2013 | 05:00

Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke perform "Blurred Lines" during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards

Let's twerk and then we can take selfies on my phablet . . . Lost? Me too. These are just some of the new terms included in an update of the Oxford English Dictionary online.

Twerk is the one word you may recognise as it has made headlines across the globe in the last few days. It's the term used to describe the raunchy dancing performed by Miley Cyrus at the MTV VMA Music awards (pictured below).

For those of you who managed to miss the show, Cyrus wriggled, writhed and shook her backside in a vigorous and spirited manner. Some might say to the point of almost being X-rated.

But perhaps I should let the OED define the dance to you. It has defined Twerk as a verb: to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low squatting stance.

Do we really need these hip hop terms to become part of our vernacular? Are we not supposed to be protecting the language? The OED used to be the guardian of the Queen's English. It was the place to go to find the correct word or term for everything.

People who spent time studying the dictionary were articulate and eloquent. Their vocabulary was vast and limitless but always precise and expressive. It was how we aspired to use the English language. It showed the language at its most elegant.

Would Dickens not be turning in his grave to hear people talking about taking a 'selfie' (which is a photograph that you take of yourself) on their 'phablet' (a smartphone with a larger screen)?

Katherine Connor Martin from Oxford Dictionaries Online disagrees. She says 'twerk' has been around for 20 years and that by last year it had generated enough currency to be added to the dictionary's new words watch list.

"And by this spring, we had enough evidence of usage frequency in a breadth of sources to consider adding it to our dictionaries of current English."

Fair enough, but there are a lot of 'current' words that are just young people twisting and torturing the language. If enough people say, "I was sat there" will it become correct grammar? If enough kids say, "true dat" does that mean we will end up saying it instead of "that is true"? Will we no longer be relaxing on holidays but 'parlayin' instead?

Where do you draw the line? Do we really all want to end up with children who sound like 50 Cent or Snoop Dogg (both rappers who sound like they could benefit from an hour or two spent reading a dictionary)?

Apparently 1.8 billion new words are detected each year, but only about 1,000 of those make it into Oxford Dictionaries Online in a twelve-month period. Since March 2000, the OED has been an online publication, to which it adds revised and new entries four times a year.

How does a word qualify for inclusion in the OED? First, the OED requires several independent examples of the word being used, and also evidence that the word has been in use for a reasonable amount of time.

The exact time-span and number of examples may vary: for instance, one word may be included on the evidence of only a few examples, spread out over a long period of time, while another may gather momentum very quickly, resulting in a wide range of evidence in a shorter space of time.

"We also look for the word to reach a level of general currency where it is unselfconsciously used with the expectation of being understood," says Martin.

I can think of a few expressive words used in anger which everyone understands, but I hope they never see the light of day in the OED.

Do we really need to have a special word for provocative dancing? Doesn't that just make it more acceptable? After all, twerking sounds a lot nicer than slutty dancing.

Anyway dudes, it's been real but I gotta roll. Peace out.

Irish Independent

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