How many people do you need to form a “squad”? If you’re playing in the Cricket World Cup, 15 (11 of whom will be on the field at any time). If you’re the World Cup champion U.S. women’s national soccer team, 23 in all.
If you’re members of the U.S. House of Representatives, all you need are four: Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
“The Squad” T-shirt, $22.99 on Etsy (shipping included).
The four first-term Democrats gave themselves the “Squad” moniker when they were photographed for their new-member orientation in January, Pressley told CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King last week:
AYANNA PRESSLEY: Yes, because we were the four being interviewed as firsts. And at the end of that interview, we took the photo and I'm not sure who said it, but just --
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It was me.
AYANNA PRESSLEY: But just within the context of social media culture, said, "Oh let's just do a #SquadGoals or something."
RASHIDA TLAIB: It was "Squad Goals."
AYANNA PRESSLEY: It was "Squad Goals." And then it morphed into this thing.
(Actually, it was just “squad.”)
As Ben Zimmer explains in his Wall Street Journal Word on the Street column, “squad” has roots in rap culture, where it “refers to one’s ‘posse’ or close circle of friends”:
In 2015, Taylor Swift appropriated “squad” to refer to her coterie of young celebrities, popularizing “squad goals” (often rendered on social media with the hashtag #squadgoals) to allude to the aspirations of such an intimate group.
But “squad” goes back much further. English borrowed it in the late 16th century from French esquade, which had been borrowed from Vulgar Latin exquadra, meaning “square.” In Romance languages, writes Zimmer, “the term could refer to the square formation that infantry troops used when under attack by cavalry. This kind of formation was used by Roman legions and carried on through the Napoleonic wars, eventually rendered obsolete by the development of modern weaponry.”
By the early 1800s, “squad” could also mean any small group of people. A century later, the word was being used as a synonym for “sports team”—the OED says this usage is “orig. U.S.”—and, almost concurrently, to describe a unit within a police force. The police sense of “squad” gave rise to many sub-categories, including “fraud squad,” “murder squad,” and “vice squad.”
“The Mod Squad” (ABC-TV, 1968–1973): “One black, one white, one blonde.”
When it originated in the 1860s, “firing squad” referred to a group of soldiers detailed to fire the salute at a military funeral; a few years later it was being used to describe the people detailed to execute a prisoner. The earliest citation I’ve found for “circular firing squad”—a political party engaging in internal disputes and recrimination—is from a 1992 New York Times article that quoted Rep. Robert S. Walker, R-Pennsylvania: “What we’re seeing here is a kind of circular firing squad, with everybody standing in a circle pointing fingers at the person beside them.”
Trump's best friends are, once again, the democrats tearing apart their own candidates in search of perfection. pic.twitter.com/KgyCW0tWh9— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) April 3, 2019
“Squad” shows up in hundreds of trademark filings, the oldest of which (now canceled) is Mattel’s Power-Jet Squad Gun, which was registered in 1961.
Job Squad was a Kimberly-Clark trademark for paper towels from 1970 to about 2010, when the blogger Inside NanaBread’s Head wrote a poignant obituary for the brand.
Job Squad ad, 1979. Not to be confused with J.O.B. Squad, a professional wrestling stable in the 1990s.
The oldest live SQUAD trademark is for Suicide Squad, a DC Comics title that launched in 1987.
And there are dozens of “God squad” brands, both within and outside the trademark registry.
God Squad tote bag from GodIsLit.com.
“Squad” is also enjoying a moment in the UK, where the “Gaukeward squad”—named for Conservative MP David Gauke—recently won a vote in Parliament “that would make it harder for the next PM to shut down Parliament to get round its likely opposition to leaving the EU without a deal,” according to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg. To understand the pun, you have to be familiar with “awkward squad,” a British term for “a group of individuals, normally within an existing organization or structure, who resist or obstruct change, either through incompetence or by deliberate association” (Wikipedia*). The earliest citation for “awkward squad” is, rather amazingly, the poet Robert Burns’s dying utterance: “Don’t let the awkward squad fire over me.”
* My favorite tidbit from this Wikipedia entry: “John Clare, an English peasant poet, wrote with his own spelling and no punctuation. He complained in the 1820s to his editors that people could understand him, and he refused to use "that awkward squad of colon, semi-colon, comma, and full stop", according to the display in the John Clare Cottage, in Helpston.” A separate Wikipedia entry tells the history of a self-described 21st-century awkward squad: an informal group of socialist trade unions in the UK.