don't know squat

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don't know squat

Post by Archived Topic » Mon Jun 21, 2004 6:29 pm

First used when?
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don't know squat

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 21, 2004 6:44 pm

Best to begin by saying that the consensus I see on this specific term is ‘origin uncertain.’ But it is pretty clear from the evidence below to generally conclude what ‘don’t know squat; and the associated other terms are about and where they come from.

First for my personal speculations: It is a term that probably came into existence earlier than 1960. I had never heard the term in NYC and when I went off to college in upstate New York in 1959, there it was in several forms. It made a big impression on me because it was one of the earliest new non-NYC terms I had heard. It sounded quaint and rural (farming, hillbilly,. . .) and I had the impression that the college kids had picked
it up from the locals (rural Rochester – was really out in the country in those days).

The first form I heard it in was ‘I don’t know didldly-squat’ meaning ‘I don’t know shit.’ Which meant I know nothing or next to nothing. ‘What do you know for the upcoming test?’ could be answered by ‘I don’t know diddly-squat.’ These terms also began to be used separately as shortened versions as in ‘What do you know?’ answered by ‘I don’t know diddly’ or ‘I don’t know squat.’ These were very satisfying terms which rolled of the tongue nicely. I liked them (they were exotic) and used them a lot and were a long ways away from New Yawk Tawk.

‘Diddly’ I had the impression came from the wasting time idea (there is a sexual connotation, but I don’t think that was what was meant). I thought the word was a rhyming variation on piddle and my step-mother, who is from Arkansas, always used the expression piddling around and you left a piddling amount of food on your plate, meaning a very small insignificant quantity. So all in all I took ‘diddly’ to mean just a very small amount.

Squat, to me, clearly meant shit. You squat down when you do it and squat was just a shorthand for it. So if you didn’t know squat, you didn’t know shit – you knew nothing or next to nothing.

Incidentally, another expression which meant exactly the same thing as ‘don’t know squat’ also presented itself to me when I arrived at college and that was I DON’T KNOW DICK (know nothing or nearly nothing) or I DON’T HAVE DICK (have nothing or nearly nothing).
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Now for what the experts have to say:

CASSELL’S DICTIONARY OF SLANG

DIDDLY-SQUAT noun [1950s and still in use] (U.S.) nothing, zero,; thus ‘it don’t mean diddly-squat. Euphemistic variation on DOODLEY-SQUAT

DOODLEY-/DOODLY-SQUAT noun [1930s and still in use] nothing, zero (cf. DIDDLEY-SQUAT)

DOODLEY-/DOODLY-SHIT noun [1930s and still in use] (originally U.S.) worthless rubbish, trash [variation on DOODLEY-SQUAT]

DOODLEY/DOODLY noun [1930s and still in use] (U.S.) nothing, with inference that the subject is additionally worthless [abbreviation of DOODLEY-SQUAT]

SQUAT noun [1930s and still in use] (U.S.) nothing, zero [abbreviation of DIDDLY-SQUAT]

SQUAT verb [1930s and still in use] (U.S.) 1. to sit down 2. to defecate

DICK noun [1910s and still in use] (U.S.) nothing e.g. ‘We ain’t got dick.’ [use of DICK in synonymous manner as FUCK and SHIT]
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NEW SHORTER OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

SQUAT noun North American Slang, M20 (1930-1969) [origin uncertain: perhaps from SQUAT verb]
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AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY

SQUAT noun Slang. A small or worthless amount; diddlysquat.

DIDDLY-SQUAT also DIDDLYSQUAT A small or worthless amount. [Alteration of diddlyshit (influenced by doodly-squat): diddly(probably from diddle2) + shit, added as an intensive (from shit).]

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RANDOM HOUSE UNABRIDGED

DIDDLYSHIT noun Slang (vulgar): DIDDLY [1960-65, American; (perhaps DIDDLE + Y) + SHIT]

DIDDLY noun Slang, A thing of little or no value; naught: ‘Your excuses aren’t worth diddly to me.’ [perhaps euphemistic shortening of DIDDLYSHIT

DIDDLY-SQUAT noun Slang: DOODLY-SQUAT [probably variation of DIDDLYSHIT]

SQUAT noun Slang. doodly-squat.
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So, piecing together what the various dictionaries said, it appears that diddlyshit/doodlyshit/doodlysquat (however one chooses to spell it) actually came first and then the others, diddly/squat/shit, followed as shortenings. This is essentially what my impression was from my personal experience above (so probably wasn’t a false memory after all).

Note: I wouldn’t dignify the unsubstantiated although interesting (phony origins are usually interesting) speculation I found on PHRASE FINDER (e.g. carnival money), which could only serve to proliferate bogus word etymologies.
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Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, Colorado – U.S.A.)
6/26/02


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don't know squat

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 21, 2004 6:58 pm

From Take Our Word For It (Sept 14, 1998):
Having conducted extensive research into diddly, diddle, doodle, dawdle and several similar red herrings, I have come to the conclusion that it's just excrement. Wait, don't go! I mean, literally, that's what diddly-squat means. The earliest (1934) form of this expression was doodly-squat. The word squat came to English in the 15th century from the Old French _se quatir_ meaning "to crouch". As squatting is involved in the performance of a certain bodily function*, squat was occasionally used as a euphemistic substitute, as in: "That boy don't know squat about baseball." (* Please excuse me mincing my words in this manner. I'm trying to hang on to our Cyber-Moms award.)
The use of doodle here is clearly distinct from its standard meaning of "an aimless or casual scribble" and is probably best understood as an expanded form of doo-doo, an infantile word for squat (see above). So, why was doodly/diddly added to squat? We can only speculate. It could be that, in addition to reinforcing the meaning of squat, it also renders the expression humorously euphonious.
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don't know squat

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 21, 2004 7:13 pm

And what is the difference between you know squat and don't know squat?
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don't know squat

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 21, 2004 7:27 pm

The various explanations mean diddley-squat to me.
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don't know squat

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 21, 2004 7:41 pm

April 13, 2003

My experience has been that "doodly-squat" is the most common term within the confines of the South, probably roughly following the map of the Confederacy. I have never heard anything but "diddly-squat" in the northeast, midwest or far west. I was reared in Decatur, GA in the 1930's and can't remember a time the word was not in use. Any oter comment?

Ed Sutton
Burlington, NC
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don't know squat

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 21, 2004 7:56 pm

roster

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don't know squat

Post by Archived Reply » Mon Jun 21, 2004 8:10 pm

son of a gun
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