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Squeegee is:

a scraping implement, usually consisting of a straight-edged blade of india-rubber, gutta-percha, or the like, attached to the end of a long handle, for removing water, mud, etc. [OED]

OED's earliest citation is from 1844:

Holy-stoning the decks..is the worst description of nervous torture of which I ever heard, excepting perhaps, the infliction of the squee gee.

Mrs. Houstoun Texas & Gulf of Mexico I. 39

The second citation is a definition of squeegee from William Henry Smyth's The sailor’s word-book: an alphabetical digest of nautical terms (1867):

Squeegee, an effective swabbing instrument, having a plate of gutta~percha fitted at the end of a broom handle.

Today, the best-known of these tools is the hand-held window squeegee which is used for cleaning windows and windscreens.

enter image description here

Image source: hookbag.ca

Squeegee is also a verb from 1883 (OED):

It is then ‘squeegeed’ down on the glass and developed.

J. T. Taylor · Hardwich's Manual Photogr. Chemistry

In recent decades, the terms squeegee bandit, squeegeekid, squeegee thug emerged as these urban tribes began to pester motorists at busy road junctions. OED's earliest citation is from 1985 (Washington Post):

When rush-hour traffic backs up along the downtown streets here, the ‘squeegee kids’ are in business.

Questions:

  1. What is the etymology of squeegee? OED says that the noun squeegee is from the verb squeege; and squeege is the strengthened form of squeeze. What does "strenghtened form" mean here? Why a single letter alteration from z to g?

  2. OED compares squeegee to squilgee and says "of obscure origin" for the etymology of squilgee. The earliest citation is from Herman Melville's Moby- Dick (1851):

Edgewise moved along the oily deck, it operates like a leathern squilgee.

Now Wikipedia mentions squilgee and squimjim as other names for squeegee. Can they be malapropisms? I couldn't find anything about squimjim though.


Note: Squeegee is a nautical word originally and later used in photography, then window-washing. Etymonline doesn't add much to what I have found already.

  • 3
    There's a non-trivial chance that it's onomatopoeic. – Hot Licks Dec 30 '15 at 20:52
2

Early occurrences of 'squeege,' 'squilgee,' and 'squeegee'

Squeege

The earliest occurrence of squeege in Google Books search results is from Richard Sheridan, "The Genuine Speech of Mr. Sheridan, Delivered in the House of Commons" (February 7, 1787):

Is it then a maxim with the [East-India] Company's servants to devulge nothing which they can conveniently secret, to square their honesty by the quantam of the temptation---to squeege as much from the subject, and account for as little to the public as possible.

Another fairly early instance of squeege appears in Byron Oldskirts, "The Amateur's Rout," in Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c (July 1, 1817):

I barely secured my retreat by upsetting a basket of borrowed crockery; and invading the privacy of three pounds of spermaceti candles, brought them all down with me to the bottom of the stairs—me, who only sought to borrow part of their envelope to wrap up the finger of my Venus, which, in an endeavour of Betty to squeege a bunch of flowers into her hand, had received a compound fracture.

Also, from Richard Peake, The Duel, Or, My Two Nephews: A Farce in Two Acts (1823):

Lieutenant. What is the meaning of all this disturbance!

Rumfit. Allow me to inform you, that you squeege my windpipe.

Lieutenant. Are you from Portsmouth?

Snooks. No; from Lunnun!

And later still, from Mrs. S.C. Hall, "Sketches of Irish Character" (1829), quoted in a review in The Eclectic Review (July 1829):

"John—oh John, don't mind 'em, but give me my cap ; I hope it isn't in that band box that's had the dance in the mud. There, och! John, honey—don't 'squeege' it so, sure no cap can stand a 'squeeging.'"

All of these instances are from the British Isles—two from Irish sources and two from English. The sense of the verb squeege in all of them seems to be very close to that of the verb squeeze.


Squilgee

The earliest Google Books match for squilgee is from a letter written aboard the U.S. Ship Peacock, at sea, on May 25, 1836. printed in Waldie's Octavo Library (January 10, 1837):

He sighed, and took up a small mirror in one hand and a brush in the other and commenced brushing his hair in a kind of deliberating way. "Well, it can't be helped, (another survey,) it sets like a purser's shirt on a squilgee handle, and no longer becomes the graceful tournure of Tom"—Here an idea flashed over his mind—his countenance fell.

And from Henry Mercier, Life in a Man-of-war: Or Scenes in "Old Ironsides" During Her Cruise in the Pacific (1841):

If you want to make old Bowser stand straight," chimed in Flukes," you'll have to fish him with a couple of squilgee-handles ; dont you see, he's got Saint Lorenzo on his back."

From Herman Melville, White Jacket (1850), we get a clearer idea of exactly what a squilgee is:

Finally, a grand flooding takes place, and the decks are remorselessly thrashed with dry swabs. After which an extraordinary implement—a sort of leathern hoe called a "squilgee"—is used to scrape and squeeze the last dribblings of water from the planks. Concerning this "squilgee," I think something of drawing up a memoir, and reading it before the Academy of Arts and Sciences. It is a most curious affair.

All three of these examples are from U.S. naval sources, suggesting that squilgee may have originated in U.S. English as a nautical term.


Squeegee

The earliest match for squeegee (or squee gee) as a verb is from C. Toogood Downing, The Stranger in China; Or, The Fan-Qui's Visit to the Celestial Empire, in 1836–7, volume 1 (1838):

As I sat close to her [the small-boat manager], in trying to make myself understood, I happened to catch hold of her arm. She immediately drew back and turned her eyes, with much anxiety, towards the shore, saying, "Na! Na! Mandarin see; he squeegee mee! he squeegee mee! Mandarin see!"

They were then, it seems, watched all the time they were out, and would be punished if they were detected doing any thing improper. "Squeegee" means being put into prison, and a sum of money forced from them before they are liberated.

The word appears even earlier in William Neale, The Port Admiral (1833), a novel in which a first lieutenant has the unusual surname Squeegee.

Also, Mrs. M.C. Houstoun, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico: or, Yachting in the New World, volume 1 (1844):

As for holy-stoning the decks, I set my face against that from the first ; it is the worst description of nervous torture of which I ever heard, excepting perhaps, the infliction of the squee gee, which, as its name almost implies, sets every tooth in one' head on edge for a week. Brooms and swabs are bad enough, but to these I was obliged to submit.

This last quotation suggests that the word may indeed be an onomatopoeic construction.

A description of deck cleaning from almost fifty years later shows that the only major change is the replacement of the leather implement with a rubber-edged one. From "On a Man-o'-War: Jack Tar and His Life on Board Ship," in the New York Tribune (February 21, 1892):

If the visitor reaches the Navy Yard and goes to the ships on some mornings, he will see Jack washing the ship. The deck is covered with sailors, some in their bare feet with their trousers rolled up, others wearing rubber boots; some busily pushing back and forth the "holy stone" at the end of a long stick, others drawing a carrying water in buckets, others pouring the water over the deck, and others working in the wake of those drying the deck-planks with a rubber squeegee. Then there will be still others busily engaged at polishing the brass work.


Other meanings of 'squeegee'

Although the ship-related sense of squeegee may be the earliest sense of the word, other meanings have arisen as well. From "The Trypograph," in the [Cleveland, Ohio] Weekly Herald (November 13, 1879), where squeegee refers to an ink-scraping device:

A new instrument for multiplying copies of letters, etc., has been introduced into England under the name of the trypograph. It seems a modification of Edison's electric pen. ... No press is needed; all that is wanted is something with a flat surface, the means of holding the stencil firmly, and a squeegee for scraping the ink over the surface.

From "No Mistake in Hers," in the Easley [South Carolina] Messenger (April 18, 1884)—a reprint of an article originally published in Leadville, Colorado—where squee-gee seems to mean something like "ship-shape" or "acceptable" or "legitimate":

At noon a girl, about 19 years old, and wearing a somewhat faded costume, came up to the delivery window of the post office, threw down a letter, and said to the clerk, 'Is that air stamp all squee-gee?' 'Yes, it seems to be all right.'

A similar use of squeegee appears in an earlier account, from "A Sheriff's Possee Have a Terrible Tussle with a Bloodthirsty Horse-Thief Near Fredonia," in the Leavenworth [Kansas] Weekly Times (July 31, 1879):

The sheriff of this county is daily in receipt of descriptions of stolen animals. Patience is played out, and it is likely that more of the gang will suffer before long, and without a warrant in the hands of an officer to make things all "squeegee."

(The non-"squeegee" action implied at the end of this account is the prospect that a mob of vigilantes might lynch the person accused of horse theft.) And again in the [Hillsboro, Ohio] News-Herald of May 11, 1893, in the brief comment, "The smaller fruits are injured, but the apples are all squee-gee."

From "Fourth of July Remarks," in the Bismarck [Dakota Territory] Tribune (July 1, 1881), where the implement in question is not well defined:

Ten o'clock a. m., forming of the grand procession, on Thayer street, ... 10:15—march of the procession followed by the Calathumpians, with a stove pipe cornet band, wash boiler drum corps, and squee gee orchestra.

Perhaps related to the preceding sense of the term is this instance from "The 'AHS' in a Girls' School," in the New York Tribune (June 19, 1887):

Suddenly the gentleman, of whose piratical tendencies there can really be no doubt, gave his drum a dreadful bang, the fiddle squee-geed as if possessed of a lost but irreconcilable soul, the harps wailed with tumultuous emotion, and then all was silent, and the heathens relapsed into their customary gloom.

From "Home Run Smashes," in the Los Angeles [California] Herald (August 7, 1892), where squee gee evidently serves as a mysterious slang modifier:

"A bric-a-brac arm" is now the squee gee definition of a lame wing.—{Boston Post.

From the [WaKeeney, Kansas] Western Kansas World (December 23, 1893), where the term seems to to mean something like "high muckety-mucks" or "well-paid do-nothings":

Just think of the money paid out in the last four years by farmers to build mills, start alliance stores, establish newspapers, pay lecturers, speakers, and other high-up squeegees and the vast monthly collections to keep the presidents, vice-presidents and the long list of office holders in funds to stand around and look wise.

This usage is reprised in "A Savage Blow Delivered Against the Republican Clubs by Cy Leland's Organ," in the Topeka [Kansas] State Journal (July 2, 1896):

Take the Troy [Republican] club, for example. It has over two hundred members, upon which it is required, in order to be in good standing, to pay about $4 into the treasury of the state organization, to make up the salary of the Squeegees.

From an "advertisement for Frederick Loeser & Co.," in the [New York, New York] Sun (June 18, 1899), where squeegee refers to tools or equipment used in photography:

Squeegee Rollers, 19c., 25c. and 39c.

(Other contemporaneous photography-related ads promote squeegee albums and squeegee plates.)

From "Local Comment" in the [Marshalltown, Iowa] Evening Times-Republican (June 4, 1904), where the word is used in belittling, pejorative sense:

The members of the various women's clubs of the city should prod up their chief of ordinance to improve their armament and equip their organization with heavy artillery. We have the words of the baccalaureate sermon for it that their "squee-gee, pop-gun morals are antiquated.

From "Municipal Squeegee at Work," in the Omaha [Nebraska] Daily Bee (April 26, 1908), where the term refers to a street-cleaning machine:

A new era in street cleaning in St. Louis was inaugurated recently when the "squeegee" purchased by the street department was give a practical demonstration.

...

As explained by Mr. Kindling, the "squeegee" operates on the principle of the rotary street sweeper, being a combined sweeper and sprinkler.

An earlier mention of a hand-held squeegee for street cleaning "in wet or slippery weather" appears in the [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star (July 17, 1899).

From an advertisement for Diamond Squeegee Tread Tires, in the [Columbia, Missouri] University Missourian (November 14, 1915), where squeegee is a tire-tread pattern:

In 1914 and 1915, out of every million Diamond Squeegee Tread Tires, 990,000, or 99% have made good. ... Start using Diamond Squeegees. You can't beat "99% satisfaction" in the tire business.

An explanation of the tire tread name appears in "Mr. Squeegee" in the Ashland [Oregon] Tidings (May 27, 1915):

The queer little character who has recently been appearing in advertising under the name Mr. Squeegee, seated on top of a Diamond Squeegee Tread Tire with an umbrella over his head to protect him from the rain, has attracted a great deal of attention and has caused many people to wonder where such a name as Squeegee could have originated.

Store owners have long been accustomed to clean their windows with the edge of a thin piece of rubber inserted in a zinc holder, and in some manner or other this utensil became known as a squeegee, although the word seems to have no particular significance.

An ad featuring Mr. Squeegee and showing the design of the tire tread appears in the Harrisburg [Pennsylvania] Telegraph of May 29, 1915.

From the Palatka [Florida] News and Advertiser (May 5, 1916), where squee-gee evidently means something like "damper" or "kibbosh":

Two fire alarms on Sunday kept the boys free from ennui. Both were inconsequential but might have been damaging had it not been for prompt action from the fire fighters. The boys also put the squee-gee on a blaze in Palatka Hights last Saturday.

From "Medina School Bells," in the Medina [Ohio] Sentinel (February 6, 1920), where the meaning is akin to "out of true" or "off-kilter":

It [the school bell] is worthless as it now is, that's certain. But what ails it? To my belief it is not properly "hung." It swings on an insecure foundation, is set on the frame squee-gee, if you know what that is; it vibrates back and forth when it is rung; and so badly hung is it there is danger it might fall thru the belfry any time it is rung.


'Squeegee' as a funny-sounding nonsense word

As noted above, the earliest Google Books match for squeegee is as the surname of a naval officer in a novel written in 1833—a novel that also features such names as Captain Bombast, Captain Grummet, Major Ramrod, Major Puff, Mr. Smug, Timothy Tarpaulin, and Ben Bucket. The nautical setting and the inherent silliness of the word squeegee probably account for the author's choice of Squeegee as a surname; but that choice also strongly suggests that squeegee was as familiar a term on board ships in 1833 as tarpaulin was.

Likewise, the Austin [Texas] Weekly Statesman (October 30, 1890) tells a joke involving a Sunday-school teacher named "the Reverend Mr. Squeegee." The [Sumter, South Carolina] Watchman and Southron (May 13, 1891) notes that "The polka 'Squeegee' by the [4th Regiment] band and with the Kazoos was a novelty here, and was highly enjoyed." The Kansas City [Missouri] Journal (May 17, 1897) reports that the head of a secret political society in the neighboring state of Kansas styles himself the "grand squeegee." This last regional usage may also explain the following wording from "Kansas Items of Interest," in the Hutchinson [Kansas] Gazette (September 17, 1896):

The Salvation army has mighty strict rules about its officers marrying. They cannot do it without permission from the squeegee who ranks above them.

and this one from "He Has Divided It" in the Wichita [Kansas] Daily Eagle (April 18, 1897):

It may perhaps not be amiss to sta[t]e that from 1871 to 18732 we were Grand Lodge Master of the Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows of Kansas, during which year, the order enjoyed an unprecedented degree of prosperity, notwithstanding. It will be see from this that we have been a 'Squeegee.'

A much earlier instance from the White Cloud Kansas Chief (July 1, 1858) may refer to the same secret political society in Kansas:

We understand that the Ex-Cobbler and Journeyman Loafer of Iowa Point, Constitution Maker, Member of the Squeegee Legislature, aspirant for Lieutenant Governor, seeker after all offices in general, and getting none in particular, is now engaged in the laudable undertaking of arousing the public mind against us.

The Indianapolis [Indiana] Journal (September 7, 1900) reviews an opera that includes a character who is "King of the Squee Gee Island." And the [Stevensville, Montana] Western News (May 1, 1901) features a mock advice column called "The Woman Beautiful," supposedly written by "Madame Squee Gee."

Perhaps the most striking instance of squeegee as a purely attention-getting word is from the [Plymouth, Indiana] Marshall County Democrat (July 29, 1858), where this "new advertisement" appears immediately beneath another one that begins "Look Here!":

SQUEEGEE!!

All persons indebted to the undersigned are requested to call an pay up, immediately or their notes and accounts will be left with the proper officer for collection. A. BOYD & CO.

Various instances of squeegee from the early 1900s treat it as a nonsense word. From Sarah Shepherd, "Jack Among the Jeeboos," in the Seattle [Washington] Post-Intelligencer (July 29, 1900):

The Squeegee [Jack's friend] looked where Jack pointed. Just over a large rock by the path were waving half a dozen or more long slim things that certainly looked like snakes.

From Maud Walker, "Sally May and the Squee-Gee Man," in the Omaha [Nebraska] Daily Bee (January 17, 1909):

The door slowly opened, and the queerest-looking little old man, followed by a hunchback who carried a knapsack over his shoulder, entered. Lifting his finger to Sally May, the old man said in very low tones: "Now, don't make a noise, little miss, when I tell you I am the Squee-gee man, and this fellow here (pointing to the hunchback) is my assistant. ..."

From "The Dog Case," in the Barre [Vermont] Daily Times (May 12, 1913):

"You say he is a Scandinavian Squeegee dog and that he has been missing two weeks?" resumed the great detective.

From "The Test" in the [Clarksburg, West Virginia] Daily Telegram (November 19, 1915):

And Selig Toober walked out of the city hall with a full-fledged promise that some day he would be appointed letter carrier in Squee Gee Falls.

From Howard Garis, "Uncle Wiggily and the Clothes Pins," in the El Paso [Texas] Herald (August 8, 1919):

But all of a sudden, as Uncle Wiggily was almost there, out from under a pile of dried leaves jumped a bad old Squee-Gee. Now a Squee-Gee is like a Scoodle-Oodle, only it has a very long and slender tail and this tail is very soft and tender, like a bear's nose.

"Oh, ho!" squeaked the Squee-Gee, for it has a voice like a mosquito.


Conclusions

In Google Books search results, squeegee (1833/1844) and squilgee (1837) debut within a decade of one another and refer to the same hand tool. One of the earliest instances of squee gee—from Mrs. Houstoun's 1844 narrative—emphasizes the awful sound the implement made "as its name almost implies." The word may have been influenced by similar-sounding words such as squeeze and squelch, but it may also have been to some extent imitative of the sound the squeegee made.

When I first used the word squeegee in front of my children (then about four and seven years old), they laughed uproariously and insisted that I "say it again!" It's odd to imagine that the very ludicrousness of a word's sound may have contributed to its staying power, but that may have been the case here. Certainly, squeegee has been used to convey a wide array of meanings and to serve as the nonsense name of many fictional characters.

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  • Great research Sven. Do you have anything to say about the "strengthened form" also? – ermanen Jan 12 '16 at 1:06
  • I don't know precisely what "strengthened form" signifies in the OED etymology note. A search of "dictionary definition 'strengthened form'" finds the expression being applied in different ways in multiple dictionaries. For example altogedere is a strengthened form of all; sneeze is a s.f. of nese; indi- is a s.f. of in-; hupomeno is a s.f. of meno; and diatrophe is a s.f. of trophe. I would be interested to know how "strengthened form" in lexical use differs from, say, "intensified form" or "more precise form." – Sven Yargs Jan 12 '16 at 1:34
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  1. M-W Unabridged speculates that the origin of squeegee is "probably imitative," perhaps of the sound that it makes (especially on glass) as it does its work. M-W cites your 1844 reference as the first known use of squeegee. I lean toward the opinion that squeegee derives from squeege.
  2. In mathematics, a "strengthened form" of a theorem is one either involving more supporting axioms in its proof, or a more highly specific statement, e.g. "axiom IV* is a strengthened form of axiom IV, with the words 'at most one line' replaced by 'one and only one line.'" In linguistics, a "strengthened form" of a word is apparently one that "is assisted by its phonetic appropriateness." (A discussion of "phonetic appropriateness" can be found here.)
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