[Ads-l] Fw: more on "twerp"--part one... and a half

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sun Sep 17 13:42:54 UTC 2017

Before getting to Tommy Earp, I should qualify one part of part one. The claim (made in a 1945 book) of "twerp" in a song from 1916 is questionable, doubtful, unreliable, it seems. There are several versions of the song euphemistically titled "Bless 'Em All," some apparently sans twirp or twerp. The 1992 Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (p. 353), e.g., gives a verse as from a 1940 song (it may have been first published in 1940), including: "There's many an airman just finishing his time/ There's many a twirp signing on...."

There may well have been such a song during WWI, but whether attesting "twerp" is uncertain, as far as I know. But the claim of 1916 was (reportedly) made in 1941 by a man who did not enlist until 1917. There is dispute about authorship. How many airmen could there have been in 1916, and how many then already retiring?


From: American Dialect Society <...> on behalf of Stephen Goranson <...>
Sent: Saturday, September 16, 2017 10:43 AM
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Subject: [ADS-L] more on "twerp"--part one

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://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__archive.org_details_pigeonstheirstru00tege&d=DwIFAw&c=imBPVzF25OnBgGmVOlcsiEgHoG1i6YHLR0Sj_gZ4adc&r=uUVa-8oDL2EzfbuMuowoUadHHcJ7pjul6iFkS5Pd--8&m=UqMXD4Xxr2WkWEjeijMejKx374BtxSkNfxJk62FajXY&s=TC-XGMhXGBVtpH45LBGeI-SkiMt_TnSlroLrnsfeUgc&e=

[2] https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__babel.hathitrust.org_cgi_pt-3Fid-3Dcoo.31924000040588-3Bview-3D1up-3Bseq-3D100&d=DwIFAw&c=imBPVzF25OnBgGmVOlcsiEgHoG1i6YHLR0Sj_gZ4adc&r=uUVa-8oDL2EzfbuMuowoUadHHcJ7pjul6iFkS5Pd--8&m=UqMXD4Xxr2WkWEjeijMejKx374BtxSkNfxJk62FajXY&s=u9oSB-A5eWo27HMJYt5T_bPMhmuPWdzxoufCFPkZv3Q&e=

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


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