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:
: 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.
[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