Definition: A small firework that hisses and produces a small explosion, and a witty remark – similar in both meaning and sound to ‘quip‘.
Origin: The origin is uncertain – but it does seem to date to the 16th century.
Why this word?
A ‘damp squib’ is a phrase that we’ve probably all encountered. It means something of which more was expected. It is easy to see where this phrase came from. A squib is a firework and a good firework requires a good bang. If it is damp, however, there will be precisely no bangs for your buck. Thus, a damp squib can refer to anything that promises more than it actually delivers.
Recently, I had heard a media story referred to as a ‘damp squib’. I realised that although I knew the phrase, I had no idea what the word ‘squib’ itself meant – be it damp, dry or in any other state of hydration.
How to use this word:
In its simplest form, you can use the word squib to talk about fireworks. You can ask someone after a display if they liked the large, garish fireworks or are more a fan of the squib – something particularly appropriate at New Year.
As discussed, squib also means a witty remark. Thus, the next time someone tries to verbally ‘one-up’ you by attempting wit, you can congratulate them on their squib deployment, thus proving who, linguistically speaking, the real ‘daddy’ is.