The Surprising Historical Meaning Behind 'Twerk,' 'Hot Mess,' and More

'Twerking' dates back almost 200 years. 

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The Oxford English Dictionary added more than 500 new entries this week, spanning everything from popular culture (fo’ shizzle) to politics (SCOTUS). And while the entry rules may appear lax (we're looking at you, jeggings), not just any word is eligible for inclusion. The OED is a historical dictionary, which means there has to be "evidence that the word has been in use for a reasonable amount of time," according to their website.



The Oxford English Dictionary traces a word from its beginnings to the present, and seemingly new words can actually have a surprisingly long history. Although Miley Cyrus and her infamous MTV Awards performance catapulted "twerk" into a pop culture phenomenon it’s been used in English as a noun since 1820. Originally spelled "twirk," it referred to "a twisting or jerking movement; a twitch." The dictionary now defines twerk as dancing "in a sexually provocative manner, using thrusting movements of the bottom and hips while in a low, squatting stance."

Popular culture has also seemingly given rise to the term “hot mess,”—it’s the slogan for Inside Amy Schumer, after all—but there's nothing new about this phrase. In the 1800s, a "hot mess" referred to a warm meal served to large groups, and in the 1900s, it was used to describe a difficult situation, according to TIME. And while DJ's are now praised for their ability to auto-tune hit singles, the word has meant to "tune automatically" (as in radio transmitters) since 1958.

So if you're interested in expanding your daily vocabulary (or simply want to beat out your family in Scrabble), check out the complete list of new words, new sub-entries, and new senses. Not only will you learn new definitions and acronyms, but you'll find some blended words (like freegan) as well.