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January 02, 2013


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A motor vehicle which exhibits a tendency to wander all over the road, requiring constant course corrections, is said to have squirrelly (sometimes with a single L) handling; I don't know if this is a form of visual onomatopoeia -- assuming there is such a thing as visual onomatopoeia -- or an extension of the "cunningly unforthcoming" definition, inasmuch as drivers expect the steering wheel to tell them something about what's happening on the road.

Hi Nancy,

We don't know how to do any of what you suggested, but we make great coffee. Can you fix that paragraph for us? Recommend an editor?


A couple of things in the Harburg story seem questionable to me. One is that Studs Terkel would almost certainly have known the term "Yipsl," so if there was any squirreliness going on it would have been collaborative. But if Harburg's nickname really indicated he'd been affiliated with YPSL, he probably wouldn't have been blacklisted. The blacklist was aimed at people who had been in the Communist Party or groups close to it; YPSL and the Socialist Party were on the worst possible political terms with the CP. ("The right wing cloak makers/And the Socialist fakers/Are making by the workers double crosses.") Maybe he had switched his allegiance from YPSL to the Young Communist League and the nickname was a mocking reference to his early misstep, but it sounds iffy to me.

There was a very squirrely Language Hat thread here: http://www.languagehat.com/archives/003682.php

The story of these words for oak, acorn, and squirrel seems to be full of surprises.

I have to bring in regional differences in the pronunciation of "squirrel". As a southerner, my pronunciation sounds more like "squirl", while my tri-states husband and our brother-in-law pronounce it more like squir-rel with the accent on the second syllable. And of course, we're both correct.

Re Hanna-Barbera's Secret Squirrel: hard not to suspect this way some sort of mashup lifted from the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, where Russian spies Boris and Natasha were always saying things like "Get moose and squirrel!" Would have to check the timing of the two shows.

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