squib /skwɪb/

Coincidentally, the word squib came up twice today. That’s noticeable because it is a really low-frequency word. In the online British National Corpus it appears 29 times, which is very low.

The first incidence was when I described something as “damp squib,” meaning an explosive that doesn’t go off. The second was when a friend told me she was going to “write a squib,” which is a short article, usually of a humorous nature.

The word is of obscure origin. It may be onomatopoeic, an imitation of a small explosion. Regardless of this, it can be used as a noun and a verb.

As a noun: a type of firework; an explosive device such as a rocket; a satirical piece or lampoon; a mean person; a short or thin person; a decoy in gambling; a horse without courage or endurance (and by extension, an Australian slang word for coward); a squirt or syringe; a small quantity of an alcoholic drink;  a head of asparagus; a candy that resembles a firework.

As a verb: to use smart or sarcastic language; to publish a squib; to let off squibs; to fire a gun; to move like a squib; to shirk/avoid something like a coward.

There is also the phrasal verb, to squib on someone, as in to betray them.

If you write squibs, you are a squibber; if you throw squibs, you are a squibster. You may write a small squib or squiblet, and as you write, you are squibbing – creating a masterly work of squibbery.

I hope you found this explanation of the word useful and satisfying. I’d hate to think the whole piece was just a damp squib.

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1 Comment

Filed under Etymology

One response to “squib /skwɪb/

  1. Pingback: hapax legomenon /’hæpæks lɪ’gɒmənɒn/ « The Word Guy

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