Daily Archives: March 26, 2015


This is an adjective. Just looking at it by itself, do you have a sense of what it means?

Don’t bother looking in your dictionary. It’s not in Oxford, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Dictionary.com… Too recent. But people use it. More often than many words that are in those dictionaries.

What does it have a taste of? Sick, quick, squeaky, squawk, slick, ick

Let’s have some context: “I can’t look at dermatology journals. The pictures make me squicky.” “Ted Cruz’s smile is, um, squicky.”

How about a bit of etymology?

Yes, there is etymology for this. The bad news is that it’s just that squicky comes from the word squick, which can be a verb or a noun: “That picture gives me squick.” “That picture is a squick.” “That picture squicks me.” “I squick at that picture.” As you can see, both causative and resultative senses are in use.

The exact sources of squick are subject to some speculation. A sound effect? A portmanteau of squeamish and ick? Perhaps just a word that sounded right for the situation and was used in a context where it caught on among a small group and gradually spread farther?

Either or both of the first two may be true, but that last one is pretty reliable. The word squick first showed up in some Usenet news groups around 1994 – possibly alt.sex.bondage, or possibly fanfiction, depending on whom you ask.

The word seems like a fairly impressionistic sound slap to express, in some self-consciously inventive way, the concept of ‘disgusting’ or ‘sickening’. But this is one instance of an impressionistic word where an explanation of the definition helps, because there is an important distinction between “that disgusts me” – or “that makes me sick” – and “I have an automatic queasy or repelled physical response to that”: the latter implies no moral judgment on the object.

And that’s the thing. If something squicks you, if it’s a squick, if it’s squicky and makes you feel squicky, if – in brief – it participates in a squickening, that means simply that it engenders a reflex. Imagine watching someone perform dental surgery: cutting and peeling away the gums, drilling into the – Stop? Yes. If you’re like me, dental surgery is a horrible squick. Writing that made me shudder. But it’s not morally repellant. Likewise, there are many activities and foods and so forth that some people enjoy that others find utterly squicky. But that doesn’t mean those others condemn it, or that the foods or activities are in any particular way worthy of condemnation. (They may be, but that’s a separate issue.)

How, if this word is not in the standard dictionaries, can I have all this information about it? It’s not because I did a lot of in-depth primary-source research. It’s because there are a couple of dictionaries that have it: Wiktionary and Urban Dictionary. They are crowd-sourced and much more responsive. They are not utterly reliable, of course. But you can get useful information and confirmation.

In particular, the most upvoted definition at Urban Dictionary for squick is a well-written one posted in 2004 by Ian Osmond. He notes the following: “Stating that something is ‘disgusting’ implies a judgement that it is bad or wrong. Stating that something ‘squicks you’ is merely an observation of your reaction to it, but does not imply a judgement that such a thing is universally wrong.” And he adds, “In general, distinguishing between ‘squick’ and ‘disgust’ is an important part of living in a tolerant society.” Many people, he contends, mistake squick for disgust and thereby condemn things as wrong on the basis of distaste.

Either ironically or appositely, people who mistake distaste for infallible moral judgement squick me a bit. But mainly they just irritate me. The most recent true intense squick reflex I’ve felt was when I made the mistake of doing a Google image search on impetigo. (Don’t. Just don’t. You know they always show the worst cases.)