Why Squee Means "Cuteness Overload" – And It's Not New Either
Updated: Aug 1, 2018
If you are looking for a word that best describes the myriad of positive emotions you feel when seeing something that overloads your cuteness circuits, then search no further. Currently the most accurate word in the English language to describe the emotion caused by extreme cuteness is 'squee', and it's been around longer than you may think.
I'm always delighted to learn new words so I decided to delve deeper into its meaning and found out something rather surprising. According to an article in the Washington Post on recent additions to the Oxford English Dictionary including squee, it seems old is the new new.
The word squee has in fact been around since 1865; its definition referred to it as representing 'a high pitched squealing or squeaking sound' such as that made by a violin. Google describes the popularity of the word surging in the 1990's to early 2000's with its meaning slightly altered as 'representing a pronunciation of the shortening of squeal.' It effectively became popular as a means to imply excitement in emails and on forums.
What's wrong with the word Squee? Google's definition of squee as 'a cry of delight or excitement' is the closest I can get to a description of the intense feelings felt when looking pictures of floofy puppies on the internet. What is interesting is how much of a divisive word it has become, mainly due to its original meaning becoming broader.
Squee currently has a dual modern meaning; one straight from the 90s and the other reflecting an even newer definition:
1. Imagine an excitable teenage girl with a group of her friends planning their weekend shopping trip to the mall to finally get that top she's had her eye on – squueeeee! Or as Urban Dictionary puts it: 'A noise primarily made by an over-excited fangirl'. Another online slang dictionary suggests we should stop using the word 'as it is annoying, inherently high-pitched, and no one likes it'.
2. A feeling of excitement and happiness, such that one feels like squeeing. This is a much more muted, simplified interpretation and I would say describes a more internalised experience. But not exactly the one I feel accurately imparts how a basket of tumbling kittens makes me feel.
Squee is also a word somewhat lacking in gravitas when considering the context of its use back in 1865. It portrays the playing of a musical instrument “’Wheen, squee, rhepe, twiddle,’ went the third violin”, described by Katherine Martin, Head of U.S. Dictionaries at Oxford as 'evocative, onomatopoeia-filled gibberish'.
I have to admit I have adopted the word Squee with some reluctance – this profound sensation of 'cuteness overwhelm' deserves a word entirely of its own. A word that describes the confusing, conflicting emotions of cuteness overload, beyond being derived from the mere sound of a ballpark emotion.
This undefinable emotion carries a heft that onomatopoeic 'gibberish' from 1865 does not satisfactorily convey.
The best language for describing the sensation of Squee. Fortunately for those uncomfortable using 'squee' the option to investigate other languages and import a word from them is a much easier task in this present age of global connectedness. So this is what I did.
Naturally I first looked towards the languages from which English is derived, such as French and German. But alas, even the Germans who gave us 'Schadenfreude', and have other articulate words we haven't yet adopted but should (such as 'Backpfeifengesicht' : a person with face that makes you want to punch them), were just as lexically barren.
There is only one country with the emotional self-awareness to have identified and given cuteness overwhelm its very own word: The Philippines. Tagalog has the term 'gigil'.
According to Tagalog Online, 'gigil' refers to the 'trembling or gritting of the teeth in response to a situation that overwhelms your self-control'. It’s been commonly described as 'an irresistible urge to squeeze something cute'.
As far as I'm concerned, it's perfect. But it does come with the disadvantage that only those who speak Tagalog will get what you are saying – which is still around 87 million people.
Who knows, with the wonderful pervasiveness of the internet, it could take off.
Do you have a better word we could use to describe Squee? Let me know in the comments section below.