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  • Paul Anthony Jones

Squabash


A supremely useful word popped up on Haggard Hawks earlier this week:

So here’s a bit more about it. The definition we posted on Twitter comes from the Scottish National Dictionary, which provides more than a few pointers to its invention.

Squabash, the SND explains, was a word coined by the Scottish writer John Wilson, a nineteenth century journalist and man of letters who wrote (often under the pseudonym Christopher North) for Blackwood’s Magazine, a Tory-leaning magazine known for its fierce literary and political rivalry with its Whig counterpart, the Edinburgh Review. Writing in Blackwood’s in June 1818, Wilson wrote that the author of a recent submission to the magazine would, if it were published, “secure ... a squabash”.

By that, Wilson apparently meant “a knockout blow”—or, in the words of the SND, a “devastating reproof.” Unfortunately, in that sense—as a noun—squabash failed to much catch on outside of Wilson’s writings. But before long, it had morphed into a verb, and in this new form its meaning developed, and it survived for a time in the broader Edinburgh dialect. Eventually, squabash came to be used in the way we explained on Twitter: as a word meaning “to demolish someone’s opinions”. And anything that did precisely that became known as a squabasher.

Where did Wilson himself take the word from? The Scottish National Dictionary suggests squabash might be a fanciful combination of squash and bash, but it’s at least possible he modelled it on an earlier and much more widely used Scots word, stramash, meaning “an uproar”, or “a crashing mishap”. Alas, while stramash remains in use today, squabash apparently fell out of use by the turn of the century, and has languished in one of the less well-thumbed corners of the dictionary ever since.

#Scots

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