What an exciting and controversial week it has been in the world of twerking! First Miley’s performance at the VMAs, then the addition of “twerk” to the Oxford Dictionary Online. Both of these twerk-tastic events were met with angry recriminations, harsh judgments, and extreme indignation. It has certainly been fun to watch.
Comments in reaction to the addition of “twerk” to the ODO include “This is ludicrous,” “...and the world collectively loses five IQ points,” “I don't want to live on this planet anymore,” “RIP English language,” and “The degradation of society.” Why all the fuss? I have always been confused by people who view the evolution of language as something to bemoan rather than explore.
Language is always evolving. English today looks very little like English a few hundred years ago, and it will look very different a few hundred years from now. It’s silly to get upset when dictionaries reflect these changes in language. Dictionaries are not intended to tell us how we should speak, and which words we should be using. They’re reflective of language at a certain period in time. This particular period in time is characterized by a high incidence of the use of the word “twerk” and its variations. The ODO is simply acknowledging and documenting this development. The world is not becoming stupider; if you think about it, this documentation makes us more aware of linguistic trends and thereby increases our knowledge!
What people are actually upset about, I bet, is twerking itself, which as we all know by now involves some serious and shameless booty bouncing. The conversation has gone in many directions, including the question of whether Miley was actually twerking at all, whether she’s appropriating Black culture, whether her performance was any good, whether Robin Thicke should be sharing in the flack, whether there’s too much slut-shaming going on, and the like. Those are all fine and interesting topics for debate. But the evolution of language is a simple fact, and documenting it should not cause people to lament and carry on.