Printable Version
Pronunciation: skwaht Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, Adjective, Noun

Meaning: Lower your voices1. (Verb) To crouch, to sit haunches to heels. 2. (Verb) To settle in an unoccupied building or on unoccupied land without a legal claim to it. 3. (Noun) A squatting position. 4. (Noun) The place occupied by a squatter. 5. (Noun, slang) Nothing or approaching nothing, diddlysquat, zilch, nada. 6. (Adjective) Short and thick, podgy, disproportionately wide.

Notes: I usually avoid words with so many meanings, but this one struck my fancy because of the slangy noun sense of "nothing" and the adjective sense "short and thick". A person who squats is a squatter, guilty of squatting. The adjective, since it is monosyllabic, compares as squatter and squattest. You may add a -y to this word, if you like, to produce another adjective, squatty.

In Play: Our contributor today wrote, "Squat lobsters were new to me this week and set me to wondering about all the meanings of the word squat." We're glad she ordered squat lobsters. Otherwise, anything that is wider and shorter than it should be qualifies it for today's Good Word: "Rose Gardner was squatting by a squat statue of Buddha in her back yard." Finally, the slang sense of today's word: "Phyllis Dean doesn't know squat about etiquette!"

Word History: Middle English squatten came from Old French esquatir "to crush". French inherited this word from Latin ex- (here, an intensive prefix) + quatir "to press flat". Quatir is what French made of Latin coactus, the past participle of cogere "to assemble, collect, compress", comprising co- "together" + agere "to drive, act, move". Latin inherited the root of agere directly from Proto-Indo-European ag- "drive, move". English borrowed a host of words based on the Latin root ag-. The past participle of agere was actus, which lies at the base of act, actual, and today's Good Word. Ambassador comes from a combination of amb(i)-ag-to- "one who moves around". (Let's thank Eileen Opiolka from sunny Scotland for ordering the squat lobster that piqued her interest in today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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