Friday, May 25, 2012

My stupid ideas #1: A damp squib

I don't know about you, but occasionally, just occasionally I'm given to stupid ideas. Or total misconceptions more like. One example is with the phrase "damp squib".  As when Opposition politicians say, "The Government's latest policy on [fill in the gap yourself] is a damp squib." Whenever I heard those words, all unbidden, a mental image of a soggy sea creature would spring to mind. Freaky really.

However, I can't remember how, but I came to realise that maybe I had misunderstood the meaning of this favoured political cliché. Partly it was due to the fact that I suddenly twigged that the pink, gooey sea creature that kept intruding on my imagination was a not a squib but a squid. It's not that I thought that giant squids were in fact giant squibs, but as the words sound quite similar they had somehow become conflated in my mind.

At last, I understood that a "damp squib" wasn't  the equivalent of a "wet fish". Good eh? But that was only half the battle. Now I needed to know what "damp squib" really meant. Being a bookish type with scholarly pretensions, I immediately Googled the phrase, hoping that Wikipedia could enlighten me. I wasn't disappointed.
Squib (explosive)
A squib is a miniature explosive device used in a wide range of industries, from special effects to  military applications.
While most modern squibs used by professionals are insulated from moisture, older uninsulated squibs needed to be kept dry in order to ignite, thus a "damp squib" was literally one that failed to perform because it got wet. Often misheard as "damp squid". (See here for full entry).
At least I'm not the only one.  

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