Printable Version
Pronunciation: skwah-lid Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Filthy, incredibly dirty, dilapidated, run-down. 2. Sordid, morally degenerate.

Notes: Rather than create a noun like squalidity by its own devices, English rather wisely borrowed the Latin noun accompanying this adjective, squalor. This word is far lovelier than its meaning deserves, but at least we can utter it without cringing.

In Play: Today's word basically refers to physical dilapidation: "The Elbow Room was a squalid little bar on the wrong side of the tracks where you wouldn't want your worst enemy to come for a drink." However, we shouldn't forget that it also covers moral dilapidation: "The squalor of contemporary politics discouraged even Polly Graf from running for Congress."

Word History: English borrowed squalide from Middle French, making the silent E also invisible. French inherited the word from its grandparent, Latin squalidus "rough, coated with dirt, filthy", from squales "filth". All these words come from squalus "filthy". Latin had another squalus that referred to some type of large sea fish. These two words differed only in the length of the A (Latin distinguished words with long and short vowels.) Now since we know that fish become quite squalid in a short time without refrigeration, we might wonder if the two words are related. Our curiosity is only fed by the verb from squalus (= filth), squalare which, according to Etymonline, meant "to be covered with a rough, scaly layer, be coated with dirt, be filthy". If these two forms of squalus are related, the stem of today's Good Word came from the same source as English whale.

Dr. Goodword,

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