Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
A couple of months ago I came across the word “quelch” in a book I was reading, While chasing down its meaning. I was led to another big fuzzy spot, a constellation of words that share sounds and semantics. In this BFS we shave:
Quash and squash. This pair of words ultimately derives from a Latin term that meant to break/smash.1 “Squash” is just the Latin word with the consonant of the prefix “ex-“ at the front. These days “quash” is usually employed as a legal term, as in “quash a subpoena”2 “Squash” has a broader semantic range.
Squish. Probably originated an imitation of a natural sound “Squish” is now used figuratively in phrases like “squish oneself into a small space.”
Quelch and squelch. Both words have a dual meaning, to suppress/crush and to make a splashing sound (e.g, when boots are full of water). The two words are probably variations of the same term. “Squelch,” though, is by far the more common of the pair. The words probably have onomatopoetic roots.
Quell. A good AS word, derived from an old word for torture/kill. These days “quell” means to suppress/overcome, as in “quell the uprising.”
Quench. Another AS word coming from a root meaning to put out/douse. Currently popular in a figurative sense meaning to stifle/reduce/silence/oppress.
All of these words, besides agreeing on a few phonemes, support a shared meaning (suppress, force into a subservient position). As is the case with other BFSs, many substitutions of one of these seven terms for another can be found on the web. The historical influence of the AS “quell” on the Latinate “quelch/squelch,” an influence flagged by the OED, has strong eggcornish overtones.
1 “To squash a squash,” by the way, is not redundant, since we also have a “squash” noun derived from AmInd source.
2 Some years ago a contributor to the forum pointed at the replacement of “quash” with “squash” in the phrase “squash a prison sentence” and hinted that “squash” might be . The OED, however, recognizes a 200-year history of “squash” as a legal term for suppression.