Monday, June 15, 2015

One, Two, Twee

Recently I've seen the word twee in print several times, describing art works, fashion, movies, and even an individual or two. I don’t recall ever coming across this word prior to about ten years ago, although the Online Etymological Dictionary says it’s been around since 1905. Twee doesn’t even make it into Webster’s New International Second Edition, published in 1949, except as a variation of tweeze.

Twee means “cute, dainty, quaint, precious, mawkish, affected, sentimental, and cloying.” More widely used by Brits than Yanks, it usually is a derogatory term, referring to something that is sweet to the point of being nauseating. You can probably think of things you regard as twee (and they may not be the same things I would categorize in that way). For me, what comes to mind as twee are the use of baby talk especially among adults, or overly affected speech with obsessively precise enunciation, or excessive niceties in one’s manners, such as extending the little finger when drinking a cup of coffee or tea. 

Twee has a specialized use to refer to pop music of a simple, sweet kind—also known as “cuddlecore,” “cutie pop,” and “jangle pop” and performed, or so I understand, by such artistes as Velvet Underground, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Orange Juice, Stone Roses, Dinosaur Jr., The Field Mice, Razor Cuts, Belle and Sebastian, and C86.

Linguists suggest the etymology of twee is from a mispronunciation of sweet in baby talk—but by which baby in what place and under what circumstances they do not say.

Whatever you might say about the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, you probably would not call him twee. Nauseating, to be sure, but not twee.

                        I’m sure that I shall never see
                        A word as sickening as twee.
                        A word whose cloying lips will pucker
                        And plant a kiss upon some sucker
                        Who is sufficiently unwary
                        To welcome twee’s vocabulary,
                        Like tummy, blankie, pee-pee, poo-poo,
                        Din-din, jammies, num-nums, choo-choo—
                        Those words are precious, mawkish, quaint,                                   
                        But on my lips is what they ain’t.
                        Some folks think twee is mighty cute,
                        But I’m not one who gives a hoot.

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