Good day for authors

minnow at minnow at
Wed Aug 17 08:26:11 EDT 2005

>On Tue, Aug 16, 2005 at 11:24:52PM +0100, Elizabeth Bentley wrote:
>>On 16/8/05 23:05, Minnow wrote:
>>> It isn't enormously long, but it's very squoily.[1]
>>> [1] There is no word in English that conveys this notion properly, so I
>>> shall simply let it stand.
>>Can't you even give a hint as to where in the thesaurus might be found a few
>>not dissimilar words?

Roger suggested:

>I _think_... complex, fractal, curled-back-on-itself, deep, tangled.

I tried quite hard last night to think of any single word that might convey
"squoily", and failed.  Then I wrote a short explanation, which turned into
a long explanation...

The person who brought this impossible word into my life suggested that
"squoily" is easier to explain in High Martian, just as I am told that
existentialism is easier to explain in German, but since the only Martian I
ever managed to learn, parrot-fashion, is a single expletive phrase in Low
Martian (expressing something that is entirely impractical for the human
species anyway, or so my instructor said, so it's not a lot of use) and I
speak no German, I can't really vouch for either statement.

Come to think of it, there may be a word for "squoily" in German, but if
there is it is probably rather longer.

Squoiliness is the hard-to-define condition or perhaps state of mind being
experienced-at-the-precise-moment by an adult dog who is behaving in a way
entirely appropriate for an adult dog but is also in a state of suppressed
wriggle and bounce as of a puppy, without this showing externally at all
nor being known to the dog himself, yet nevertheless being observable by,
known to and appreciated by those who know that dog well.  A state of being
which charms (or irritates) by being typically atypical, or unexpectedly
predictable, or perhaps absolutely uncertain.  Except that uncertain is the
wrong word, and I can't off-hand find the right one.  It's inexpressable
because it is unexpressed.

Squoily carries with it a very small element of cute-without-cuteness or of
rightness/appropriateness of an unexpected kind that would be intolerable
if it were self-conscious; that is downright impossible to pin down, too.
(Anyone who thinks punctuation doesn't matter should note what it does to
that sentence if a comma is accidentally put where the semi-colon is meant
to be.  I read it be-commaed this morning, and screamed gently before
putting the semicolon in place.)

Cats are not naturally squoily: it would be beneath their dignity, and in
any case cats are self-aware *all* the time.  I suspect that hedgehogs are
continually squoily, but nobody ever realises it (except perhaps another
hedgehog) because nobody has ever really been able to get to know a
hedgehog well enough for it to become apparent to anyone but the hedgehog
himself.  They probably "waltz" to relieve the intolerable tension of
release that squoiliness would cause over a long period, and that is why
their waltzing has never been adequately explained as a behavioural
pattern, any more than their self-annointing has.

To describe something as squoily is to admit that one is lost for words to
explain one's precise emotion regarding the thing *at that moment*.  It's
in no way pejorative, but it isn't unalloyed approval either: more a
slightly baffled "I know this is as it should be, and I want to take time
to work out why/how I know it" sensation.  That's why it doesn't apply to
cats: they are as they should be because they know they are as they should
be, and if we happen to disagree even fleetingly then that's just a fault
in us, not the cat's problem.  (This may be why there is such a sharp
division between those who do and those who do not get on with cats: such
certainty is a bit daunting for anyone who doesn't happen to share it.)
The recognition of something as squoily implies an expectation that at some
future point one may arrive at a fuller understanding or appreciation of
the thing in question, or of why a familiar thing was for a moment

You see why I couldn't find a single word for it?


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