Why Twerking Does Not Taste Like Bits of Carob

It was my hippie aunt who, inadvertently, taught me the power of the right word.  And she did it in nine words:

“Try it, Billy! This carob tastes just like chocolate!”

See, at the age of nine, I trusted my aunt.  She was my favorite relative ever.  She brought me up in the summers to stay at her house way out in the sticks, where I got to play on the neighbors’ farms.  And she was all crunchy-granola organic, and trying to get me off of my junk food fix, and so she said the fatal words.

I bit into the carob eagerly.  Here was something just like chocolate, but healthy!  And I –

– wait.

This isn’t like chocolate at all.

To this day, “betrayal” tastes like carob to me. For this carob wasn’t sweet, the way chocolate was, but sort of carroty-sweet, and the texture was different.  I could see the similarities between carob and chocolate, and maybe if it had been presented to me as something yummy in its own right, but it was by no means just like.

And this is how I feel about words.  Each word is a very specific taste to me, filling a slot as precise as chocolate.  And when someone wants to remove or change a word, there’s often no good replacement.  The thesaurus would have you believe that “quick” is the same as “fast,” or “swift,” or “rapid,” or even “break-neck”; to me, each of those words have their own unique flavor, and I could not use them interchangeably.  To me, swift is the surge of whitewater, pounding majestically down the steep slope of a waterfall; quick is an animalistic word, red-furred as the fox, jumping in nimble arcs over a series of obstacles.

I don’t claim that these are universal definitions, mind you.  But to me, saying, “Quick is the same as fast” is like telling me olive oil is the same as canola oil.  I guess you could make popcorn from olive oil if you tried, but the flavor wouldn’t be what you expected.

And so when a word slides in meaning so much that there’s no handy word to replace it, as it did with the term literally, I get vexed.  (Not irritated, or upset, or disgruntled: exactly vexed.)  And when it becomes clear that a word like “retarded” is hurtful to people and I shouldn’t use it, I do drop the usage – but I also lament a little, because that word filled an exact space in my personal lexicon that no other word can quite fill, and saying, “That’s ridiculous” doesn’t carry all the weight and implications of a bunch of fifth-graders expressing indigant disgust at discovering that the world is often not just unfair, but often completely insane.

(Which is not to say that it’s correct to use that word, I hasten to say – for the very good reason that, as mentioned, these definitions aren’t universal, and those who actually are retarded or have loved ones who are hear that very differently.  Part of being a grownup is coming to realize that while you may mean “gay” in no way to refer to actual gay people, it’s actually quite rude of you to expect gay people to make that distinction.  So it’s something I’ve stopped doing.  But, like a quit bad habit, I may have stopped smoking cigarettes for very good reasons, but these lollipops I’ve substituted don’t quite make up the difference.)

So when I got tagged in a Facebook status by Riv Swanson, I was surprised to see this Conan O’Brien quote presented as though I’d agree with it:

The Oxford dictionary has named “selfie” the word of the year, narrowly beating out “twerk.”  In a related story, the funeral for the English language is Saturday.

Why would I be upset by that?

These are specific words that describe very specific situations!  You know what would upset me more?  If we had no specific word to cover twerking, and instead had to refer to it awkwardly as “that gluteal dance people do.”  Selfies are a phenomenon that can only exist in the age of cheap cameraphones and social media, and I exult in the fact that we’ve had to devise delightful new words to cover all the magnificent ways that human beings act!

I suppose I should be enraged that newness makes its way into the OED, but no.  I love slang of all sorts.  I love the creative ways that human beings keep finding bizarre things to do that no word in the long history of the language can quite describe, and that we’ve had to patch together some new term to describe a behavior.

I adore that we can have a dictionary of twenty thick volumes, printed in microscopic type, and still that’s not enough words to define everything people can do.  All the shades of meaning.  All the dances, all the emotions, all the inventions.  We keep having to make that thicker, and the truth is that it’ll never be big enough because we, as people, are going to keep doing these grand shining-new things that are so vibrant we’ll need to hammer some letters together in order to describe it in a single word.

So no.  Twerking is wonderful.  It’s another thing to add to that colorful list of dancing, mamboing, cha-chaing, foxtrotting, rumbaing – another distinct shade for my palette.  I’m glad it’s here.  And welcome aboard, little butt-dance; I don’t think you’ll last, but I’m pretty sure you’ll delight someone eighty years from now looking up the crazy trends that seized us in the early 2010s, and discovering that this was A Thing.

2 Comments

  1. Riv Swanson
    Dec 19, 2013

    Ultimately I agree that it’s a good thing that we keep needing new words and that we have single words to describe things which would elsewise be awkward to trip off the tongue, but it’s not going to stop me from thinking that “twerk” sounds dumb. Not to mention, it sounds like a drop of water leaving a leaky faucet and splattering on the stainless steel below in the middle of the night.

    Selfie is more acceptable to my ears, although I’m less than fond of people filling up the internet with hundreds of pictures of themselves because like a bird with a mirror, they just can’t get over looking at themselves.

    But then I can’t stop finding places to write, so yeah. Speaking of new words, Ferrett, what’s the next new curse word going to be? Been awhile since we had your opinion on that.

  2. Katranna
    Dec 20, 2013

    I’m just annoyed that everyone’s giving Miley the credit for that word. Twerking as a “thing” was happening across youtube and tumblr earlier this year, and Miley was just one of the people who got into it… and she happened to be high-profile.

    But the word and idea are not new. The word itself goes back to the 90s (and makes perfect sense to me as a corruption of “work it”) and the dance is just another shoot-off from existing dances like the New Orleans “Bounce” and Caribbean/dancehall “wineing” or “wukking up.” And all of these probably go back further, too.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *