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Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 2:44 pm
by arouet
I'm trying to find one, and it occurred to me that I have no idea where the word comes from. Anybody know?


Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 3:13 pm
by Bobinwales
I know that "squeege" is an obsolete word, meaning squeeze, so what is the betting that squeegee is an obsolete brand name?

Incidentally, could "squeege" possibly have been written in ogham originally? A reversal of the Scottish Mengies being spelled Menzies sort of thing?


Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 4:48 pm
by arouet
Love this! Half an hour, and already a reply fromt he other side of the ocean!

I think you may be right about the first part - the OED says something similar about "squeege"


Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 4:49 pm
by haro
Squeege / squeeze a squeegee on a wet window pane, move it back and forth, and you'll soon learn where the '-gee' comes from. Sounds pretty onomatopoetic. Bob, if it were an obsolete brand name, I think at least some dictionaries would mention it.


Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 5:14 pm
by russcable
From an article on
"The squeegee goes back to the Middle Ages, when fishermen scraped fish guts off boat decks with wooden swabs called "squilgees." It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that window washers adopted a rubber-bladed version of the tool."
The squeegee as known today was basically "perfected" and patented by Ettore Steccone in 1936, but there were already things called squeegees prior to that that he was trying to improve upon. See:


Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 10:05 pm
by haro
Russ, looks like you're right. There are lots of references to 'squilgee' and variants. No onomatopoiea then. But the question remains: Where does it come from? There's a very small step from 'squilgee' to 'squeegee' but a huge leap from no word at all to 'squilgee.' Or, as The Word Detective puts it at , "If 'squeegee' is based on 'squilgee,' we have a problem, because the origin of 'squilgee' is a complete mystery."


Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 10:34 pm
by Ken Greenwald
Paul and Russ, There seems to be little consensus on the origin of ‘squeegee’ from the sources I checked, which say such contradictory things as origin unknown (Merriam-Webster Online); from archaic/obsolete ‘squeege,’ to press (Compact Oxford, Encarta); perhaps from the obsolete ‘squeege’ (American Heritage); probably imitative [of the sound] (Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged); of obscure origin (Random House Unabridged); ? from ‘squilgee (Oxford English Dictionary).

I think that Word Detective gives a good assessment of the situation in the following:

SQUEEGEE: A "squeegee" is a usually T-shaped implement with a rubber edge on the crosspiece, used to remove water from a surface, as in cleaning windows. Back in the day when service stations offered motorists actual service, the attendant would swipe the windshield of your car with a sponge and then quickly squeegee the grime and dead bugs away with the precise motions of a surgeon. I do my best to replicate that expertise, but I invariably end up driving away with damp shoes and an only slightly less dingy windshield.

For such a useful instrument, the "squeegee" seems to be a fairly recent arrival, the term first appearing in the mid-19th century. Although squeegees do produce a squeaky sound, "squeegee" does not appear to be of onomatopoeic (based on the sound of the thing itself) origin. It may be connected, as the This Old House website says, to "squilgee," an implement used to scrape the deck of a ship after washing, mentioned in Melville's Moby Dick (which is probably where "fish guts" come in). If "squeegee" is based on "squilgee," we have a problem, because the origin of "squilgee" is a complete mystery.

But there's also the possibility that "squeegee" is derived from the 18th century verb "squeege," which was simply an intensified form of "squeeze."

Here’s what I conclude from the evidence that I was able to find:

1) It appears that This Old House made a false statement when it said:

"The squeegee goes back to the Middle Ages, when fishermen scraped fish guts off boat decks with wooden swabs called "squilgees."

It may be that an object which is now known as a ‘squeegee’ was used back in the Middle Ages (although I have found no corroboration for that), but for sure it was not called a ‘squilgee’ back then, since that word only came into use in the mid-19th century, first appearing in print as the verb meaning “to use a squilgee; to swab, clean, press, etc., with a squilgee” in 1840 and later appearing as a noun in Melville’s Moby Dick 1851. The OED give this as a possible (?) predecessor of ‘squeegee.’ The Oxford English Dictionary provides the following:

SQUILGEE / SQUEEGEE [of obscure origin] noun: A scraping implement, usually consisting of a straight-edged blade of india-rubber, gutta-percha [[‘gutta-percha’ is a tree of the Malayan archipelago from which comes a very thin leaf, often used as a waterproof covering for dressings to prevent evaporation – probably in use before the invention of rubber]], or the like, attached to the end of a long handle, for removing water, mud, etc.

SQUILGEE [of obscure origin] verb: To use a squilgee; to swab, clean, press, etc., with a squilgee
<1840 “The washing, swabbing, SQUILGEEING, etc., etc. lasts . . . until eight o'clock.”—‘Two Years Before the Mast’ by R. H. Dana, xiv>

<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.”–‘Yacht Voyage to Texas’ by Houston, I. page 39>

<1851 “Edgewise moved along the oily deck, it operates like a leathern SQUILGEE.”—‘Moby Dick’ by Melville, III. viii. page 66>

<1867 SQUEEGEE, an effective swabbing instrument, having a plate of gutta~percha fitted at the end of a broom handle.”—“Sailors Word-book” by Smyth, page 648>
2) I’m guessing that American Heritage Dictionary had it right when it said “perhaps from the obsolete ‘squeege.’" After all, the OED, which defines ‘squeege’ as a strengthened form of ‘squeeze,’ tells us that ‘squeege’ had been used as a verb some half century earlier than ‘squilgee’ came on the scene and gives the following 1782 nautical example. Also, to go from ‘squeege’ to ‘squeegee’ seems to me like a pretty logical progression:
<1782 “Such clattering, and SQUEEDGING [[‘squeeging’]] down the gangway staircase.”—‘Which is the Man?’ by H. Cowley>

<1787 “SQUEEGE: to compress to squeeze.” —‘A provincial Glossary’ by Grose>

<1885 “When cold, SQUEEGEE the emulsion . . . through muslin.” ‘Workshop Receipts’ by C. G. W. Lock, Series IV. page 346/2 Ibid. A piece of American cloth to protect the print while squeegeeing.”—page 411/2>
3) Seems to me that ‘squilgeeing’ (1840), which turned up some half century after ‘squeedging/squeeging’ (1782) came on the scene, was likely just a sailor’s mispronunciation – but this is only my humble opinion.

(Oxford English Dictionary)

Ken G – March 9, 2004


Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 10:51 pm
by Ken Greenwald
Hans Joerg, I posted before I saw your response and it looks like I am in agreement with the fact that if 'squilgee' came before 'squeegee,' we have a problem. And I have given what seems to me to be a reasonable explanation (with a bit of evidence) that ‘squilgee’ actually followed ‘squeege’ and was in all likelihood just a sailor’s mispronunciation.

Ken – March 9, 2005


Posted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 11:40 pm
by haro
Ken, many thanks for all the info. Perhaps the onomatopoetic explanation was just a bit too tempting to be correct. Anyway, no matter where the word 'squilgee' comes from, it will give me a different feeling when scrubbing the deck of my old gaff cutter in the Aegean next summer ;-)


Posted: Thu Mar 10, 2005 8:48 am
by Erik_Kowal
It is tempting to fantasise that 'squilgee' is a conflation of 'squishy' and 'bilge' that would be very much in keeping with having to deal with congealing-gut-encrusted decking.


Posted: Thu Mar 10, 2005 10:49 am
by Phil White
One specific common use of the word squeegee is in silk-screen printing (about which I know next to nothing), where it is used to distribute the ink and squeeze it through the screen.


Posted: Thu Mar 10, 2005 5:27 pm
by haro
Phil, you're right. I often use silk-screen printing for making printed circuit boards. That's where I heard the English word for the first time. In German it's called a 'Rakel', of which I assume that it is directly related to the English word 'rake' in the sense of rake[1,noun] according to Merriam-Webster's Online ( ... ry&va=rake ).

On small silk screens like mine a squeegee without a handle is used. Automated squeegees are used in more sophisticated industrial silk-screen printing machines.


Posted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 10:55 pm
by Wizard of Oz
.. alternative thought on which came first .. hmmm let's see and it's just my humble opinion, naturally .. the sailors used the spoken word "squilgee" for centuries in their everyday language aboard ships .. maybe even since the Middle Ages .. along comes a later day writer and decides to get some "authenticity" into his book by writing down the word and arrives at the spelling >> "squeeging" being, as he is, familiar with the word "squeeze" .. ok at some later point a more scholarly author researches the word .. maybe even asking some early bardic wordwizards .. and finds that the word should be "squilgee" .. ooooops and so it appears in that holy of holies .. *gasp* >> print .. and so it is confused that it was a later word than it was in reality .. and of course gave those infallible lexiographers a reason to not have to explain where "squilgee" came from and simply blame it on those articulately challenged sailors who from time immemorial have mispronounced so many words .. just IMHO of course ..

WoZ of Aus 12/03/05