December 27, 2017


In last night's Snow Walk Café, I wrote:
I love trying to read a book in Kindle — after hours of reading this and that on the web — and arriving at a word — in this case “squunched” — clicking on it and, via Google, escaping back onto the web, going here and there, liberated by “squunched,” defying the order of things once again, not reading a book, unless you call that reading a book. But I will squunch myself back in there, in that Kindle book, just playing at trying to read until I see the sign for the next off ramp.
What I was reading was — as mentioned yesterday — "The Suffering Channel" (found in this collection):
They often liked to get two large tables squunched up together near the door, so that those who smoked could take turns darting out front to do so in the striped awning’s shade.
When you take the off ramp marked Squunch, you get to a discussion of another sentence by the same author, and I have that other book in Kindle too and can tell you "squunch" comes up in 3 sentences. Taking a gander at the first of the 3 sentences should give you a feeling for why I read fiction looking for off ramps.

1. "On the counter of an old sink the same not-quite white as the floor and ceiling (the wallpaper is a maddening uncountable pattern of roses twined in garlands on sticks) on the counter are an old splay-bristled toothbrush, tube of Gleem rolled neatly up from the bottom, unsavory old NoCoat scraper, rubber cement, NeGram, depilatory ointment, tube of Monostat not squeezed from the bottom, phony-beard whiskerbits and curled green threads of used mint floss and Parapectolin and a wholly unsqueezed tube of diaphragm-foam and no makeup but serious styling gel in a big jar with no lid and hairs around the rim and an empty tampon box half-filled with nickels and pennies and rubber bands, and Joelle sweeps an arm across the counter and squunches everything over to the side under the small rod with a washcloth wrung viciously out and dried in the tight spiral of a twisted cord, and if some items do totter and fall to the floor it is all right because everything eventually has to fall." Page 236.

2. "When Pat’s phone rings and Gately leaves, McDade’s squunching his upper lip up in his hand and asking people about acquaintance with cleft palates." Page 596.

3. "One of the falls in Mr. Schtitt’s room had been on the burnt hip, and squunched salve from the bandage is starting to darken the corduroys at that side of the pelvis, though there is zero pain." Page 756.

I had to put that below the jump so readers wouldn't run off and not read the rest of this morning's posts, one of which also has a jump to protect me from your possible aversion. But since you've made the jump, you've decided to take a reading off ramp, and that gives me a lot of freedom not to worry about boring you.

But to get out of Kindle and back to the off ramp I took googling "squunched," the first hit was to a post on a blog called Definitive Jest ("Definitive Jest is a vocabulary-building and SNOOT-approved word-of-the-day blog centered around David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest"). The blogger, Jarett Myskiw (miscue?) only spoke about sentence #3, above. He deemed the word "a neologism" and proceeded to look for other words with the strange "UU." It's funny to think there are so few words with a double U when we have a whole letter, W. "Vacuum" is the obvious one. Next is "continuum," but then you're probably stuck if you're just coming up with words out of your head. Maybe "residuum." Or did you get "weltanschauung"? There's also "muumuu" and to return as closely as possible to squunch, "squush." I'll bet you say or at least hear "squush" and it sounds fine, but if you had to write it, you'd balk at the double U.

Anyway, what fascinates me in my little google search is that David Foster Wallace does not get credit for the first use of "squunch." There's another Wallace who got there first, my personal favorite Wallace, Wallace Shawn. This is not from my favorite movie ("My Dinner With Andre"), but from a 1992 play, "The Fever":
And then when the paper and the ribbon were undone and removed, and the box itself, with its smooth surface like clear milk, was finally revealed, someone would take off the top of the box, and you would hear at that moment a little rustling or nestling sound, like the sound of a hamster moving in its cage, and that would be the sound of all the tiny little pieces of squunched-up paper that filled the box giving a sort of quiet little sigh as the taking off of the top of the box gave them some sudden extra breathing space. And then the most exciting part of the opening would start, which was the attempt to find out what in particular was inside the box aside from all the pieces of squunched-up paper, if in fact there was anything else inside there at all, because at first you always thought, Well, really, this time there is nothing else....
"Infinite Jest" came out in 1996, so "The Fever" has a 4-year jump. And yet, I have discovered "Troddledums, The Simian" — from 1879!

Click to enlarge: He caught him with a rapid wrench/And squunched him underneath a bench.

That's a very early comic strip! That's 6 years before "The Yellow Kid"!
But I've been limiting my search to "squunched." I've been squunched, it seems. If we enlarge our vistas to "squunch," we find this wonderful entry in The Dictionary of American Regional English, based on a survey taken in the years 1965 to 1970, asking Americans what word they use for: "To Move Over—For Example On A Long Bench: 'We Have To Make Room For One More. Can You ________ (A Little)?'"

There are so many words! One is "squunch over." It, like most words on the list, got mentioned exactly once. "Slide over," "scoot over," "move over," and "shove over" dominated. Those are all what we'd recognize as real words. When you get to the 10-vote level, you get the odd but obviously good "scrooch over" and "scooch over." "Squunch over" shared popularity with weird things like "scrooge over," "scrunch up," "mooch over a little," "hooch along," and "gooch down."

And there's this from "An Introduction to the Study of Language" by Leonard Bloomfield from 1914:

Going back a few more years, we find "squunch" in a poem in a 1909 issue of The Atlantic Monthly — a parody of Walt Whitman on the subject of spring:
The little boy feels it as he hurries to the kindergarten; the typewriter girl feels it squunch round her new Oxford ties; the greasy immigrant feels it as he slouches with his dinner-pail toward the quarry; the broker — his lips still warm with the good-by kiss of his wife - feels it.

I feel the Spring in every atom of my terrestrial being....
It's not spring here. It's very cold. 5 below. A great day for drinking ice water straight from the tap, but I've been squunched up too long here inside. Enough traveling along the byways reached from the off ramp Squunch.

Time to get back on the highway of Real Life.


William said...

Squunch doesn't sound like a pretentious word. It has that advantage over intenerate.

David said...

In our family it was "scunch." We thought Q's were queer, I guess, in the time when you didn't have to act queerly about the word queer.

Scooch was a small portion, a little bit. It was also a motion word. "If you scunch over I'll give you a scooch of my cookie."

David said...

By the way your liberation from Law Review seems complete.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

What's wrong with the word scrunched.

Clark said...

Scrunch was big in our family. What I want to know is how someone who comes down so hard on 'garner' can ask us to 'take a gander.' (Both perfectly cromulent words in my opinion.)

Sean Gleeson said...

Any words that somehow evoke the style or character of the word ‘squunch’ should be called ‘squunchesque.’

Ann Althouse said...

"What's wrong with the word scrunched."

It's a little harder to enunciate.

"Squunch" — if you say it out loud — sounds like a baby trying to say "scrunch." The meaning seems about the same, so it's kind of like the process of letters becoming silent.

Ann Althouse said...

"What I want to know is how someone who comes down so hard on 'garner' can ask us to 'take a gander.'"

I thought about that while writing the post, so thanks for bringing that up.

The answer is: I only say "take a gander" jocosely. I would say "garner" jocosely too. Both are silly words.

tcrosse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg Hlatky said...

Edwin O'Connor used the word "Squunch" in "The Last Hurrah".

madAsHell said...

I think it needs an umlaut....or three.

tcrosse said...

What is the correct pronunciation ? Is one U silent, or are both pronounced, as in vacuum ?

Quaestor said...

Just a scooch of mile-high maringue pie

traditionalguy said...

To Squeeze may be a key word needed, or to Squish. They are both action verbs like to Squunch something. The cousin words are sounds made words which the action makes, like Splat and Splash.

Althouse is like a Toys R Us for word toys.

Quaestor said...

I think it needs an umlaut...

Over the n, at least.

Kevin said...

This comment thread shouldn't go too much longer without someone mentioning Rick and Morty.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

I love your word journeys - there are always so many meanings and curiosities scrunched back behind and under words.

tcrosse said...

Squunch resides in the onomatopoetic end of the double U continuum.

Kate said...

"Squunch" is pronounced skwunch. I hadn't realized that I say this word often without once thinking about how to spell it.

Richard Dillman said...

In linguistics there is a basic principle termed the principle of least effort used to help explain language change and evolution. Its used to analyze phonetic change as well as syntactic change. Applied here, it would suggest that historically we drop words that require too many linguistic operations, e.g too many phonemes, too many muscular muscles movements in the mouth, or very unfamiliar phonemes or movements.

Unknown said...

Maybe it is the holiday specials, but Squunch seems like a name Dr. Seuss never got around to using.

Though the Squunch squeezed and hunched
And sneezed and runched
And sneedled and wunched
The entire bunch of Scooms
couldn't eat their lunch
because they could not fit round the table.

Should we Smoosh?
Should we Smish?
Should we balance a dish?
Should we Squush?
Should we Squam?
Or should we just Scram?

And then the Squunch sneezed again.

Then one of the Scooms said "That is it!"
If we all sneeze at once
We might just all fit!

So the Squunch and the Scooms
squeezed and hunched
And sneedled and wunched
Then all sneezed at once and Gazoom!
They all fit round the table!

But now I can't move
the Squunch sadly said
and two of the Scooms
could not reach their bread
and two more Scooms were turning bright red
until another Scoom sat under the table

Now there is room!
Said one of the Scooms
And indeed there they were
And indeed they were all there
The Squunch and the Scooms
with their Squunchy Blue hair
and though one poor Scoom was
without a fork or a spoon
or a squork or a squoon,
or even a small squitchen chair
no one there
seemed to really quite care
because the entire bunch
at last, had lunch.

Something like that.

- james james

tim in vermont said...

So when it gets to five or ten below and the snow gets kind of squeaky and crunchy does it squunch when you walk on it?

wildswan said...

Suuweet, John James. That's one Suessism that shouldn't be just chunked into the garbage but instead left to garner applause.

tim in vermont said...

I have worked in Australia and the UK, here are my findings as regards the word “gander” as in have a look.

In the US, it’s “have a gander”
In the UK, it’s “have a squiz” (sp?) only heard it spoken
In OZ, it’s “have a shuftie” (sp?) only heard it spoken

When I told a Brit that in the US we say “have a gander” he said “Oh! That makes sense! Goosey, goosey, gander!” which made absolutely no sense to me.

tim in vermont said...

BTW, I might have the UK and OZ reversed, it’s been many years.

William said...

That's extremely great, James. Who would have thought that your soul was so responsive to Seussian vibes.

tim in vermont said...

I think I did get it backwards. Squiz is the Australian word.

madAsHell said...

James, do you post from the sports bar on the Ave? I cannot imagine a cogent thought while distracted by such a din.

rhhardin said...

For great words that aren't amusing, Thomas Berger's Who Is Teddy Villanova is good.

He's a constant source (along with Wm Buckley) for examples in Hunsberger's The Quintessential Dictionary. 600 words that enable you to read all of Buckley without looking anything up.

Make flash cards.

tcrosse said...

Words, words, words
Blackadder meets Dr Johnson

robother said...

"Squunch" is also the onomatopoeic word for the sound snow makes under foot at around 10 degrees. Much lower and it is more squeaky, higher and its more pure crunchy.

tcrosse said...

There once was a parlor game called Onomatopoeia. One team would make a noise, and the other would try to come up with a word for it. For instance, spraying water into a galvanized bucket, or dropping a pile of change into a dish. It was not required to supply a spelling, though.

Lucien said...

TIL: I thought in London it was "'Ere, let's 'ave a butcher's".

Jupiter said...

"What is the correct pronunciation ? Is one U silent, or are both pronounced, as in vacuum ?"

Pronouncing vacuum with one u silent is laziness. The correct pronunciation is vac-yoo-um. Just saying.

Generally, the u after q is not silent either. It's just that q is used for k when the following vowel is a long u, followed by a second vowel. This gets even weirder in Spanish, where qu is used instead of c in front of accented e or i. So you have a verb like cercar, to enclose. The present tense is cerco, cercas, cerca, cercamos, cercan. Then, in the preterite, the first person form is cerque, with an accent on the e. Same word, spelled differently because of the following vowel. And the u is silent.

Jupiter said...

I suppose some people think it is pretentious to pronounce vacuum with three syllables. So how do you pronounce continuum?

Vacuum is an examples of RD's principle of least effort. I still use the three-syllable form for the noun when I am speaking in a formal setting. Two-syllable for "vacuum cleaner".

rhhardin said...

If vacuum were Hawaiian, they'd pronounce both u's.

Darrell said...

Say anything else, get a punch.

Richard Dillman said...

A poular regional term where I live is scooch (or scootch): to slide over, squat or crouch down. The sound doesn’ t bother me; it sounds kind of quaint, and it seems to be regional. I’ve lived in 5 different states, and Minnesota is the only place where I’ve heard it. It seems largely oral or colloquial. Is scooch part of your regional dialect? How widespread is it?

One of the great things about American English is the richness of its numerous regional dialects.

robother said...

I don't believe I have ever heard any actual human being utter the term "continuum." It was one of those healthcare consultant-speak terms that suddenly showed up in every healthcare institution's mission statement, bond offering document, and website starting sometime in the 90s. "A continuum of care."

I'm kind of surprised no national for profit didn't try to trademark it. Continuum. Because U matter.

tcrosse said...

Take away the double u's. and what is the residuum ? A heavy dragoon ?

Richard Dillman said...

Academics, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, love the word continuum. It’s a facile term that often gives simple concepts a patina of complexity. However, it does have some legitimate uses, particularly in the health sciences.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

In linguistics there is a basic principle termed the principle of least effort used to help explain language change and evolution. Its used to analyze phonetic change as well as syntactic change. Applied here, it would suggest that historically we drop words that require too many linguistic operations, e.g too many phonemes, too many muscular muscles movements in the mouth, or very unfamiliar phonemes or movements.

My husband is unable to pronounce 'colloquialism' and while I love teasing him about it, it is a word with an awful lot happening. I assume it will stay fairly fossilized since it's not an everyday word and thus not as subject to sloughing off the rough edges, though. The word 'probably' seems to be rendered more and more as 'prolly,' so I wonder if that is where it is headed.

Richard Dillman said...

Colloquialism is indeed a busy word phonetically. It seems to involve several oral muscle movements. How many phonemes does it contain?

Bruce Abbott said...

I didn't see Robin William's movie "Hook" mentioned; an aged Wendy greets here grandchildren with, "Give us a squunch!", meaning a hug...

d.k. said...

The beauty of reading a book on kindle is the ability to highlight an unknown or unfamiliar word and getting immediate feedback! I read Ron Chernow's biography of Geo.Washington...he's a fantastic author, and I highlighted many words! Learned a lot!

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

I know people who communicate almost entirely in onomatopoeia.