Mind your language

Mind your language: the dark side of squee

14 September 2013

9:00 AM

14 September 2013

9:00 AM

Oxford Dictionaries have been adding some rather silly words to their online resources, such as phablet (‘a smartphone with a large screen’, a portmanteau word, from phone and tablet) or jorts (‘jean shorts’, another portmanteau word). I can’t see much future in them, nor could I in squee, until I had a conversation with Veronica.

Squee is an exclamation of delight, or the related noun or verb. I mentioned to Veronica that it reminded me of Mr Smee, the genial pirate in Peter Pan, ‘a man who stabbed without offence’, as Barrie chillingly puts it. Veronica explained that Squee was a character too, who originally appeared in Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, a darkly misanthropic comic-book series by Jhonen Vasquez that began to appear in 1995.


In the first issue, the anti-hero Johnny C, known as Nny (pronounced ‘knee’) suddenly appears in the house of Todd Casil, a child whose mother is an addict, whose father hates him and whose grandfather attempts to devour him. Nny, in a fluctuating psychotic state, murders people in order to keep a wall in his house red with blood, supposedly to prevent a monster behind it breaking out. In tunnels beneath it he tortures captives with an electric drill and hooks. Veronica tells me the comics are popular with teenagers.

Squee’s name comes from the noise he makes when he is frightened. In the dystopia he inhabits (in which his best friend at school is the son of Satan, and his own family imprison him in a mental institution), this is quite often. He has a teddy bear called Shmee which urges him, via a voice in his head, to commit acts of evil. Despite the great popularity of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and the related series Squee! (in which a giant dust-mite falls from his pillow and attempts to kill him), many remain unaware of the less cheery connotations of squee. On a website, Cheezburger, there is a ‘Daily Squee — so cute your brain might explode’. It shows charming chameleons clambering trustingly over someone’s hand and suchlike endearing scenes of winsome fauna. But I doubt that anyone who has encountered the horror comic side of squee will use the word in the same way again.

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