[Ads-l] more on "twerp"--part one

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sat Sep 16 14:43:51 UTC 2017

Among the questions about "twerp" (a person who is considered contemptible, objectionable, ridiculous or the like) are (a) whether the term predates approximately the World War I era and (b) whether, as Tolkien wrote to his son and later editor in a (then) private letter, T. W. Earp of Oxford was "the original twerp." Today I would tentatively say probably no and yes.

OED gives 1925 as the earliest attested use. Merriam-Webster online gives circa 1923. HDAS is unavailable for t-words. Green's has 1916 (1945). Several online sites claim that "Dictionary of American Slang" gives 1874, but do not provide a quote or citation. Some books with that exact title (by Weseen, Wentworth, and Chapman) do not give 1874. But some by E. Partridge, with different titles, do, but without details. I may have found the putative, questionable, source.

William Bernhard Tegetmeier (1816-1912), was a polymath, friend of Darwin, and expert concerning pigeons. In two of his books (first editions 1868, Pigeons: their Structure... P. 94 [1] and 1871, The Homing or Carrier Pigeon p. 94 [2]) we read the following identical text, quoting "the late Mr. Wheelwright (the Old Bushman)"[3]: "I recollect many years ago--I believe it was about the first time that these Antwerp birds (or, as the fanciers of the day styled them, the ' 'Twerps,') ever were seen in England--that one hundred and ten of them were brought over to London for a prize given by the Columbarian Society there...." Note the initial apostrophe and the capital T. And note that this discourse is from "fanciers," aficionados. There is no negative meaning of this pet name. If this is what Partridge read--and World Cat indicates reprints of the 1868 book including in 1874--I suggest caution. Who would follow Partridges' pigeon flight of fancy, wild goose chase?

Part two to follow after I receive an inter-library loan so I need not rely on google snippets.

Stephen Goranson


Forthcoming, with Gerald Cohen and Matthew Little: Origin of Kibosh (Routledge)

[1] with color illustrations by H. Weir: https://archive.org/details/pigeonstheirstru00tege


Pigeons: their structure, varieties, habits, and management<https://archive.org/details/pigeonstheirstru00tege>
Fancy pigeons: containing full directions for their breeding and management, with descriptions of every known variety, and all other information of interest or use to ...

[2] https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924000040588;view=1up;seq=100


[3] Presumably Horace William Wheelwright (1815-1865)

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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