Squee! Squee! The Oxford English Dictionary announced its quarterly update this week, and among its bevy of noteworthy new words is one that gained its notoriety right here on the world wide web: “squee,” which means “an exclamation expressing delight or excitement.”
According to the OED, the word was first used in this way in 1998, in a “Star Wars” collectibles message board thread titled “Ewok Fangirl Needs Ewok 2 Pack.” “I’ll be getting one in the mail soon!,” the poster wrote. “Squee! I am so happy.”
“Squee” has been used as a joyful outburst for decades in fan communities, which have their own unique lexicon. “Shipping” and “meet-cutes” arose from the same world. Since then, “squee” has taken on a broader use, and can be found in comments on animal videos on YouTube, or threads about beloved, recently coupled-off celebs.
But where did the word come from to being with? It’s a close cousin to “squeal,” tweaked to be used as a verb, making its connection with “squealing” a clear one.
One comic book fan, Richard Rae, says the word might’ve originated in a series from the 1960s called “Magnus, Robot Fighter.” To make his point, he compiled images of several uses of “squee” in comic books, meant to represent the sound a robot makes when it dies. He wrote to io9, “Whenever a robot was wrecked or beheaded by Magnus, its death cry usually consisted of ‘Squeee!’ or something akin to it (obviously the sound of the robot’s voice box feedback upon destruction).”
But Katherine Martin, Head of U.S. Dictionaries at Oxford, clarified that “squee” as a word predates the decades-old comic. “’Squee’ was a word we noticed had been represented massively, just representing a high-pitched squealing sound, as produced by an animal or a creaky hinge or something like that. It’s actually a violin in the first case,” Martin told HuffPost.
The first-ever use the OED could find dated to 1865, and read, “’Wheen, squee, rhepe, twiddle,’ went the third violin.” It’s evocative, onomatopoeia-filled gibberish, but, Martin explains, it makes sense that this usage transitioned into the exclamatory internet forum word we know today.
“The pattern that you see here is actually not that unusual. When you’re using letters to express a sound, whether one made naturally like the sound of an animal, or one made by a person like the sound of an outburst, people will spell those in lots of different ways, and they’re pretty variable. But sometimes one of them will become fixed, and more prominent, and grow in usage over time, and that’s what happened with ‘squee,’” Martin said.
“There are probably many dozens of ways that people have expressed that sound back in 19th century. This one wasn’t in particularly frequent use, but then in the end of the 20th century it takes on this new, specific internet meaning, and its usage becomes much more common and more word-like. We have the word ‘squeak,’ so it’s not a huge leap.”
“Squee” isn’t the only recent OED addition that took on its modern meaning on the internet. “Clickbait” and “YOLO” are among the new words with online origins.
Martin explained that the OED takes a broad view of the English language, so it works to include regional English and other such vernaculars, including webspeak.
“People often talk about language on the internet as if it were somehow different from ‘real’ language,” Martin said. “But if you think about your life, how much of your daily interaction takes place by typing on a keyboard? The ability to post words publicly will be a significant factor in how language is developed overall.”