I hesitate to call this a portmanteau but my husband and I have been using a word since we met that is a combination of "squeeze" and "snuggle". Unfortunately, due to the letters involved, a word that's exceedingly easy to say seems to be very complicated to spell.

The word is pronounced like what you'd expect from a portmanteau of squeeze and puzzle, if you ever had reason to combine them. [ˈskwʌzəl] would be the most likely phonetic way of spelling it.

I've mentally been spelling it "squzzle" but this looks wrong and, as my husband pointed out, it's missing a second u. We've also considered "squuzzle" but this looks very odd and very few words in English (if any) use a "quu" construction.

I've alternately considered "sqwuzzle" but this seems to be a major departure from the general requirement in English that q must be immediately paired with u and the kw option "skwuzzle" which still seems... well, awkward, and also departs from the root word's squ (squeeze).

Unfortunately, it seems like English may not have a good way of writing this set of sounds so that it's immediately obvious how to pronounce it without relying on odd, non-standard spellings. I've been told that skunk was once spelled squuncke but over time the "w" sound was lost... possibly for similar reasons to why it's so difficult to spell my word.

So, considering the root words, how can I spell my word in a way that is clear to readers who don't already know how to pronounce it?

  • It would be much simpler to reverse the combination and go with "sneeze". – mmyers Nov 1 '17 at 6:54

Since the question of how you should spell this word seems to be a matter of opinion, I will focus in this answer mainly on describing what kind of precedents there would be for either choice.

The sequence "quu" does occur in "equus" and "obliquus", which are not exactly English words but are pretty well-established in phrases used in English.

That said, there also seem to be some somewhat established words that use "qu" for /kwʊ/ (or perhaps in some cases /kwʌ/), which surprised me. Merriam Webster lists "squushy" (a variant of "squishy/squashy") but says it is also spelled "squshy". Infoplease and Dictionary.com also have entries for "squushy", with that spelling.

A look at the Google Ngram Viewer indicates that both spellings have been around for a while, and although I don't think either is frequent enough to make a really confident statement about which one is more standard, "squshy" doesn't seem to be noticeably less common or more recent:

"squshy" seems to be at least as common as "squushy"

The spellings "sqwushy" and "skwushy" don't appear to have any usage.

Google Books also provides some concrete examples of "squshy":

  • we boys used to pick the squshy pawpaws when we went swimming in "the creek".

    (In Portia's Gardens, by William Sloane Kennedy, 1897)

  • Or he reposes on three or four feather beds piled one upon another, a patchwork quilt being spread over the squshy mountain.

    The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Volume 41, November 1890 to April 1891

  • The leaves on the forest floor were thick and squshy with who knows how many years of leaf build-up which offered a crunchy but soft cushion for my small feet and their little paws.

    More Adventures of Bruno and Bowser, by Stephen B. Hughes

I wasn't able to find any words that seem to be in anything approaching common usage spelled with "qwu" via OneLook Dictionary search (all of the results on that page seem to be acronyms or Urban Dictionary entries that were just made by some random person).

So on the one hand, "qu" and "quu" do have some prior usage in "squshy"/"squushy", but since I would pronounce that /skwʊʃi/, it may not actually make the pronunciation as clear as you want it to be. That said, the "sh" in that word may also be relevant to the pronunciation of the vowel, as /ʊ/ seems to be more common in this context than before other consonants: compare bug, buzz, bus and bush, bushy, bushel; pug, pus, puzzle and push, pushy; or mug, muzzle and (for some, although not most, speakers) mush, mushy. So it may be that "qu" would be likely to be interpreted the way you want it to be, as /kwʌ/, in the different context of "squzzle".

The spelling "quu" has, as I mentioned earlier, precedent in words from Latin (or Latin words used in English), but I don't actually know of any cases where it represents stressed /kwʌ/ with stressed /ʌ/; in the examples I mentioned earlier, the "u" represents an unstressed vowel probably best transcribed as /ə/, and in the constellation name Equuleus, the only example I have found so far where the vowel is stressed, it is pronounced as either /uː/ or /ʊ/ depending on what dictionary you check. (The use of /ʊ/ rather than /ʌ/ can be explained in this word as well as at least partly conditioned by the following consonant, in this case /l/; consider pull, full, bull). The best I can come up with is that some people might pronounce the Latin word "sequuntur" with /kwʌ/ in an English-language context (apparently, "non sequuntur" has been used, rarely, as a plural of "non sequitur"), athough with the rise of reformed pronunciation it's hard to say whether /kwʊ/ or /kwu/ might be used instead.

The fact that "qwu" doesn't occur in any commonly-used word could be seen as a disadvantage, but it also means people might not have preestablished incorrect expectations about how to pronounce it.

  • Isn't squooshy pronounced /skwʊʃi/ properly spelled with oo and not uu? – Peter Shor Oct 27 '17 at 0:05
  • @PeterShor: Hmm, I didn't even think of that possibility. It could be spelled that way. But I would use the /skwʊʃi/ pronunciation for the "qu" and "quu" spellings as well, and all of the dictionaries that give pronunciations seem to list this as an option. – sumelic Oct 27 '17 at 0:16
  • 1
    I think there's only one word here, and two of these pronunciations are spelling pronunciations. Obligatory Ngram. But maybe /skwʌʃi/ was the original pronunciation, since the "squooshy" spelling doesn't show up until later. And Kipling has slushy-squshy mud-cap in The Elephant's Child (1902). – Peter Shor Oct 27 '17 at 23:18
  • @PeterShor: Interesting; "slushy-squshy" suggests /ʌʃi/ – sumelic Oct 27 '17 at 23:32

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