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One of the first editors of Linguistic Inquiry’s Squibs and Discussion section, Professor Háj Ross, was also the originator of the term “squib”. Below, Professor Ross explains the etymology of term:
With regards to the word: I no longer know – my memory is too foggy over the 48± years since I started collecting them. I got to MIT in January of 1964; George Lakoff was an assistant professor at Harvard; we both were research assistants in Susumu Kuno’s lab, and we squibbed well and truly on a daily basis. I have asked George whether he knows who came up with the term or not; he says he is positive: I was the one. Could be – I certainly can’t deny responsibility.
At some point I went looking in the OED to see if it contained a meaning like ‘short note’ or anything like that. My wretched memory tells me that yes, there was such a meaning among the many that the OED offered up, but when I went this morning to look again for it for you, not a bit of it. There is one basic meaning, which has to do with with some kind of firework. But one of the citations is:
1599 Master Broughtons Lett. 47 Your bookes [are] but squibs, compounds of gunpowder and pisse.
Which I think would be an excellent sentence to have at the beginning of every squib section in each issue of LI.
And LI is in good company – here is a famous early user of the word:
1844 B. DISRAELI Coningsby I. I. ii. 24 No one was more faithful to his early friends..., particularly if they could write a squib.
Another thing I just found in the OED right now as I was writing is this:
N. Amer. Sport (esp. Amer. Football and Baseball). A hit, kick, or throw which travels only a short distance, esp. as a result of being mis-struck.
David M. Perlmutter
John Robert Ross
Stephen R. Anderson
Barbara Hall Partee
C. L. Baker
C. T. James Huang
John J. McCarthy
Summer 2004–Summer 2007
Hans van de Koot
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