The Meaning of ‘Squish’ and Other Fun-To-Say Political Slights

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called some of his Republican colleagues "squishes." Here's hoping he busts out "snollygosters" next.

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), listens to testimony during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on April 22, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Politics and playful insults go together like Joe Biden and jokes about him taking his shirt off. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz reminded the world of this delightful fact on Friday when he derided some of his Republican colleagues as squishes for opposing a filibuster of the recent gun control vote.

So what is a squish? A rundown of political jargon published in 1992 by the Orange County Register offers this definition:

A term used primarily by Republican conservatives to denigrate the perceived lack of backbone possessed by Republican moderates.

That sense was de rigueur during the Clinton circus of the 1990s, used by the hardcore GOP to describe colleagues who hemmed and hawed about impeachment. But it goes back further than that. Conservative think-tanker Amy Ridenour recalls the word being in vogue by the time Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Digging into the term in 2006, she said that in the ’80s, “a good working definition of ‘squish’ would be someone who could not be counted on to back a conservative initiative for philosophical reasons.”

Squish has also been used more broadly, to describe any liberal or conservative who avoids taking firm stands or doesn’t stand for anything–a politician who will sell out, who lacks conviction, who cares more about popularity than principle. “Clinton,” a Newsweek reporter wrote in 1993, “was haunted once more by his old nemesis, the Squish Factor: the impression that he had difficulty making up his mind, that he was too anxious to please, too eager to compromise, too easily rolled.” A squish is the opposite of something decided and intransigent, an entity that can be unceremoniously flattened and reshaped. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it simply as “a person regarded as weak and ineffective.”

Ridenour recounts the theory that contact between British and American conservatives may be at the slang’s root: in British politics, as an Observer reporter wrote in 1981, being wet is to be “feeble, liable to take the easy option, lacking intellectual and political hardness.” And wet things do squish.

Here are some other fun-to-say pejoratives that are particular to politics, with definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary and Green’s Dictionary of Slang:

bafflegab: (deliberately) unintelligible jargon, esp. as used for the purposes of obfuscation by politicians.

flapdoodler: a charlatan, a politician, a speaker of portentous but empty words.

flip-flopper: A person, esp. a politician, who (habitually) changes his or her opinion or position.

heeler: a hanger-on who performs tasks for a politician or political party in the hope of personal aggrandizement.

lollie boy: a politician’s ‘gofer’.

Mr. Nyet: any person (esp. a politician in the Soviet Union) noted for having a negative or uncompromising attitude.

pollywog: a person (esp. a politician) who is considered untrustworthy.

quockerwodger: a politician acting in accordance with the instructions of an influential third party, rather than properly representing their constituents.

rent-a-quote: designating someone (esp. a politician) who may be relied upon by the media to provide a comment, esp. one expressing a strong or contentious opinion, either in any circumstances or when a particular issue is being discussed.

snollygoster: a shrewd, unprincipled person, esp. a politician.

tirekicker: a politician or other decision-maker, one who discusses and debates, but fails to act.

This is an edition of Wednesday Words, NewsFeed’s weekly feature on language. For the previous post, click here.