Despite what you're reading this morning, the cultural catastrophe of Miley Cyrus forever changing the English language hasn't happened (yet). Yes, "twerk" has been added to an Oxford dictionary, but read the fine print: it's in the Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) not the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). There's a big difference.
With headlines like "Twerking' bounces into Oxford dictionary" and the outrage and disappointment attached to them (in part due to the twerking onslaught we've received in the wake of the Miley Cyrus VMA performance), it's probably as good a time as any to explain the differences between the two publications.
Though the two dictionaries are owned by the same company, they're very different reference materials. The ODO deals with a lot a pop culture terms and modern slang. The OED, meanwhile, is considered the "definitive work" on the etymological history of the English language (which stopped being printed in 2010 and is now fully digital). Oxford University Press, which publishes both works, explains:
If you are looking for practical help or advice on how to use English in writing and speaking today, then ODO will provide you with the information you need. If you’re also interested in how our language has developed over time or want to dig deeper into its origins or variations around the world, then the OED is the definitive resource.
The key words there are "practical help" and "speaking," meaning this is really helpful for conversations we have with other humans. Despite the perception of dictionaries as authoritative guides to a timeless language, they also help explain the world of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus, not just of Geoffrey Chaucer and Jane Austen. So with the confusion over what twerking is and the conversations people are having about the VMA performance, the word seems a solid choice to add to the ODO.
This is how the entry appears:
The ODO adds about 1,000 words each year, the BBC reports. To give you an idea of the sorts of words the ODO deals with and the company "twerk" now keeps, in 2011, the ODO added words like "lifehack" and "bloggable." And along with "twerk," it's adding the words "jorts" (denim shorts) and "food baby" (from Juno, when you eat too much and your stomach looks/feels like it's pregnant).
Now, if this is still too much to handle, here's the silver lining: it just became much easier to explain to your parents what twerking is.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.