squirrelly behavior

Hellsguard

Member
Turkish
Second meaning of squirrelly is very odd, silly, or foolish, says a dictionary.
Example: squirrelly behavior
Is the word used in that meaning in American English? Should I learn it?
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I agree that "squirrelly" means what the dictionary suggests, Hellsguard. It isn't a very common adjective, but speakers sometimes use it to describe odd or unreliable behavior in other people.
     
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    Hellsguard

    Member
    Turkish
    I agree that "squirrely" means what the dictionary suggests, Hellsguard. It isn't a very common adjective, but speakers sometimes use it to describe odd or unreliable behavior in other people.
    Would all or most Americans understand if I said squirrelly behavior?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I have never heard of the word, so it can't be in common use anywhere.
    I hear it and use it occasionally here in the U.S., entangledbank. The people I talk to never seem surprised to hear it in a remark about somebody's strange "look" or odd behavior.

    It probably isn't a coincidence that the word has some use among people who see a lot of shaky, nervous behavior in the swarms of gray squirrels that live here.:D
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I agree with Owlman. It's a standard adjective here in the U.S. It's not slang or recent or anything like that.

    Somebody who is unreliable in making commitments might be described as squirrelly.

    Example:
    You're at a family event and everybody is there except Uncle Joe. One person says, "Have you seen Uncle Joe? He promised he'd be here this time." Someone replies, "You know how squirrelly Uncle Joe can be about stuff like this. Maybe he'll show up later."

    It doesn't have a specific meaning but indicates someone who doesn't act in reliable, standard predictable ways - which in different situations could be odd or silly or foolish. (Just like squirrels have erratic, irregular movements.)

    Here's an example from a Google search, using it in a phrase that's a fairly common way of using it.

    "Now that you’re staying put for more than one week, maybe you can meet someone, too."

    That got his attention. "Geez, Adam. Don’t go all squirrelly on me. I’m glad for you two, but now is not the right time in my life to go looking for anyone."


    I'm not sure of the exact intended meaning in this context because I only read this very short excerpt.
     
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    Xyz123456

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    For reference, in the four decades I've been alive I've never heard "squirrelly" used in the UK, nor when I was living in the US or Canada.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    For me, "squirrelly" is a metaphor for rapid and evasive movements of a squirrel.

    So when I hear that someone is "squirrelly" I assume that they are making quick changes to avoid blame or consequences. The changes can be in the behavior, finances, stories and lies, etc.

    It does not necessarily signal guilt (but usually does), but it does signal a desire to evade consequences.
     

    Hellsguard

    Member
    Turkish
    I agree with Owlman. It's a standard adjective here in the U.S. It's not slang or recent or anything like that.

    Somebody who is unreliable in making commitments might be described as squirrelly.

    Example:
    You're at a family event and everybody is there except Uncle Joe. One person says, "Have you seen Uncle Joe? He promised he'd be here this time." Someone replies, "You know how squirrelly Uncle Joe can be about stuff like this. Maybe he'll show up later."

    It doesn't have a specific meaning but indicates someone who doesn't act in reliable, standard predictable ways - which in different situations could be odd or silly or foolish. (Just like squirrels have erratic, irregular movements.)

    Here's an example from a Google search, using it in a phrase that's a fairly common way of using it.

    "Now that you’re staying put for more than one week, maybe you can meet someone, too."

    That got his attention. "Geez, Adam. Don’t go all squirrelly on me. I’m glad for you two, but now is not the right time in my life to go looking for anyone."


    I'm not sure of the exact intended meaning in this context because I only read this very short excerpt.
    I think squirrelly here is 'not able to stay still'.
    You are not a squirrelly person but, seeing me here makes you wanna to become squirrelly.
    I might be right?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    For me, "squirrelly" is a metaphor for rapid and evasive movements of a squirrel.

    So when I hear that someone is "squirrelly" I assume that they are making quick changes to avoid blame or consequences. The changes can be in the behavior, finances, stories and lies, etc.

    It does not necessarily signal guilt (but usually does), but it does signal a desire to evade consequences.
    Your understanding of the word seems reasonable to me, Packard. I've never associated the word with rapidity, but it seems reasonable to do so. "Evasive" and "erratic" are two adjectives that definitely come to mind as I think about what it means.

    "Fidgety" or "jittery" might be better words to express the idea of not being able to be still, Hellsguard. I don't associate restlessness with "squirrelly". "Shifty" and "odd" seem much closer to me.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    In the excerpt I posted he's talking about a way of thinking, not a way of acting. He is afraid his friend has changed his way of thinking about things and he is afraid that will affect their relationship.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Your understanding of the word seems reasonable to me, Packard. I've never associated the word with rapidity...

    If someone changes his mind several times during one conversation, I might call them squirrelly.

    But if they changed their minds at a glacial rate of one change every 10 years, I would not call them squirrelly even if the number of changes is the same.

    I think a time factor is part of the word's meaning.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Apparently, "squirrelly" had some use in BE about 100 years ago:
    OED: squirrelly 2. Inclined to rush this way and that, unpredictable. Of a person: demented, crazy; jumpy, nervy.

    1928 O. Elton1 Surv. Eng. Lit. I. iii. 70 Lady Sarah Lennox's letters are ‘at first squirrelly and girlish’.
    1934 M. H. Weseen Dict. Amer. Slang 198 Squirrely, abnormal; queer; crazy.
    1960 Spectator 25 Mar. 438 Her description of contestants going ‘squirrelly’ (demented) with exhaustion..makes an unpleasant sociological document.
    1970 K. Platt Pushbutton Butterfly (1971) x. 117 I got all squirrelly after you left. I just couldn't sit around doing nothing.

    1Oliver Elton (3 June 1861 – 4 June 1945) was an English literary scholar whose works include A Survey of English Literature (1730 - 1880) in six volumes, (from Wiki)

    I'm reminded of an American film (whose name eludes me) in which a police officer tells the PI that the suspect was "at the squirrel farm." As the PI does not understand, the officer explains "The squirrel farm - the asylum - where all the nuts are."
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that it faded away, yet it seems a little surprising to me that the word has died out so completely over there within a century.
     
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    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    If you look at the ngrams graphs, the word is currently roughly ten times as popular in AE as it is in BE. In BE it is so infrequent that the graph looks rather erratic (dare I say squirrelly), whereas the AE graph is smooth, and shows a meteoric rise beginning circa 1960.

    "Meteoric rise" is a bit of a daft metaphor. Meteors fall, don't they?
     
    I agree with Owlman. It's a standard adjective here in the U.S. It's not slang or recent or anything like that.

    Somebody who is unreliable in making commitments might be described as squirrelly.

    Example:
    You're at a family event and everybody is there except Uncle Joe. One person says, "Have you seen Uncle Joe? He promised he'd be here this time." Someone replies, "You know how squirrelly Uncle Joe can be about stuff like this. Maybe he'll show up later."

    It doesn't have a specific meaning but indicates someone who doesn't act in reliable, standard predictable ways - which in different situations could be odd or silly or foolish. (Just like squirrels have erratic, irregular movements.)

    Here's an example from a Google search, using it in a phrase that's a fairly common way of using it.

    "Now that you’re staying put for more than one week, maybe you can meet someone, too."

    That got his attention. "Geez, Adam. Don’t go all squirrelly on me. I’m glad for you two, but now is not the right time in my life to go looking for anyone."


    I'm not sure of the exact intended meaning in this context because I only read this very short excerpt.

    I agree it's standard and common in AE. Heard it at college.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    In the UK, the squirrel, much like squirrels everywhere, and because of its habit or speeding around in trees, has been seen as unpredictable and slightly mad, but that position in figurative language was normally taken up by the hare, viz. Alice in Wonderland and the Mad March Hare.

    Because of its habit of hoarding, the squirrel has mainly been seen as an example of being provident. (A National Saving scheme had a squirrel on its logo.) This "stashing things away" is usually seen positively, has also given rise to "to squirrel things away" - to hide (small) things for later use - so madness/unpredictability has not been to the fore.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    That makes sense. We also use "to squirrel things away", but I don't think the association between squirrels and positive behavior is particularly strong over here. We've seen too much bad behavior at the bird feeders, I suppose.:D
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    As I think about it, the AE meaning should be used because 90% of our squirrels are American Grey/Gray Squirrels!
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I've read a little about that problem, Paul. It's just another sad tale in an age of rampant biological invasion.
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Being squirrelly is a mild form of madness. Somebody with serious mental issues would be beyond squirrelly. Squirrelly-ness can often be harmless eccentricity. Sometimes it has more serious consequences.

    In the cab example I quoted above he noticed small problems that he described as squirrelly and he wasn't overly concerned by them. But in that case, what he didn't know was those were indicators of major undiagnosed problems that led to the complete breakdown of his engine. At that point, the behavior went well beyond squirrelly.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I have to resort to my Babelfish every time I hear Americanpersons talking about squirls.
    I was thinking about that, too.

    Here, squirrelly is pronounced skwer - lee, which matches the American pronunciation skwerl (one or barely two syllables, depending on the person, but rhyming with "her")
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    "Crazy" is also one of the adjectives I associate with "squirrelly", but I tend to think of this craziness as something less serious than a major mental-health disorder would be. "Nutty" is a good word for this level of craziness.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    "Crazy" is also one of the adjectives I associate with "squirrelly", but I tend to think of this craziness as something less serious than a major mental-health disorder would be. "Nutty" is a good word for this level of craziness.

    "Nutty" works for me. But "unpredictable" works even better for me. A squirrelly person could be briefly brilliant and then completely off the rails a moment later.

    Packard: I went to see Mike the other day. I wanted his opinion on a car I was planning on buying.

    Jules: Mike's a bit squirrelly in my opinion. You never know what he's going to say or do next.

    Packard: I agree, but he sure knows his cars. And he never seems to lie. But yes, a bit nuts, and totally unpredictable.
     

    Hellsguard

    Member
    Turkish
    Apparently, "squirrelly" had some use in BE about 100 years ago:
    OED: squirrelly 2. Inclined to rush this way and that, unpredictable. Of a person: demented, crazy; jumpy, nervy.

    1928 O. Elton1 Surv. Eng. Lit. I. iii. 70 Lady Sarah Lennox's letters are ‘at first squirrelly and girlish’.
    1934 M. H. Weseen Dict. Amer. Slang 198 Squirrely, abnormal; queer; crazy.
    1960 Spectator 25 Mar. 438 Her description of contestants going ‘squirrelly’ (demented) with exhaustion..makes an unpleasant sociological document.
    1970 K. Platt Pushbutton Butterfly (1971) x. 117 I got all squirrelly after you left. I just couldn't sit around doing nothing.

    1Oliver Elton (3 June 1861 – 4 June 1945) was an English literary scholar whose works include A Survey of English Literature (1730 - 1880) in six volumes, (from Wiki)

    I'm reminded of an American film (whose name eludes me) in which a police officer tells the PI that the suspect was "at the squirrel farm." As the PI does not understand, the officer explains "The squirrel farm - the asylum - where all the nuts are."
    Is it Kill Bill?
     
    Ben Beaumont Thomas--music reviewer with 'hip' vocabulary-- used 'squirrelly' in the Guardian:

    Coachella day two: kidult silliness and Billie Eilish's freaky vibes

    There are big slots for the British dance stars Four Tet and Aphex Twin, the latter on masterful form. With sassy Detroit basslines and squirrelly effects, his style is unmistakable and he enhances it by folding in tracks from other producers.
    ================


    (I can't guarantee he's British. Anyone know?)
    ===
    Guardian, also:

    Monday briefing: 40% think multiculturalism ... - The Guardian

    https://www.theguardian.com/.../monday-briefing-40-think-multiculturalism-undermines...

    Sep 17, 2018 - The study concluded that 12% of the total UK population is in ... (and nippy!) this frightened, distressed ball of squirrelly energy was
     
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    Hellsguard

    Member
    Turkish
    I
    Your understanding of the word seems reasonable to me, Packard. I've never associated the word with rapidity, but it seems reasonable to do so. "Evasive" and "erratic" are two adjectives that definitely come to mind as I think about what it means.

    "Fidgety" or "jittery" might be better words to express the idea of not being able to be still, Hellsguard. I don't associate restlessness with "squirrelly". "Shifty" and "odd" seem much closer to me.
    I know the words fidgety and jittery. However, doesn't squirrely also mean 'not able to stay still'?
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I have never heard anybody use it with that meaning, Hellsguard. You would do well to keep "odd" and "shifty" in mind when you use it. You definitely won't be "wrong" if you think about those meanings as you use "squirrelly".
     

    Hellsguard

    Member
    Turkish
    H
    Hi, Hellsguard, In AE at least, we use an entymological term, not a mammalian one, for "not able to stay still": "antsy".
    Hi, ain'ttranslationfun?! All dictionaries say that squirrely means unable to stay still. Example: squirrely kids.
    Very unlikely but, it may be that you do not know?
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I saw that definition too, but I don't know anyone who uses it that way. It's about an erratic or questionable mental state or physical action whenever I hear it. A squirrelly person might fidget in stressful situations but that's the effect, not the cause.

    In the case of people, it's about the mental state. In the case of things, which don't have a mental state, it's about performing erratically. When race car drivers say a car is squirrelly in the turns it means it does not respond to them in the normal, predictable way. It moves erratically. You could say that is related to fidgeting. But in people, I always hear it about people's mental state. If kids are hyped up they might jump around, but again I would call that the effect of being in a squirrelly state of mind, not the direct meaning itself.
     

    Hellsguard

    Member
    Turkish
    I have never heard anybody use it with that meaning, Hellsguard. You would do well to keep "odd" and "shifty" in mind when you use it. You definitely won't be "wrong" if you think about those meanings as you use "squirrelly".
    I made a digital note of what you said. I'm good to go. :)
     
    I saw that definition too, but I don't know anyone who uses it that way. It's about an erratic or questionable mental state or physical action whenever I hear it. A squirrelly person might fidget in stressful situations but that's the effect, not the cause.

    In the case of people, it's about the mental state. In the case of things, which don't have a mental state, it's about performing erratically. When race car drivers say a car is squirrelly in the turns it means it does not respond to them in the normal, predictable way. It moves erratically. You could say that is related to fidgeting. But in people, I always hear it about people's mental state. If kids are hyped up they might jump around, but again I would call that the effect of being in a squirrelly state of mind, not the direct meaning itself.


    'Erratic.' Nice.
     
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