Have You Absquatulated Lately?

Have You Absquatulated Lately?

Absquatulate is a deeply silly word that means to make off with something or someone. Why say a that a man ran off with your possessions when it’s much more fun to say that he absquatulated with them?

The word absquatulate came out of an odd fad in America in the 1830s for making playful words that sounded vaguely Latin. Bloviate (“speak pompously”) and discombobulate (“make confused”) are two other pseudo-Latin coinages from that era. Absquatulate takes the word squat and adds the prefix ab- “off, away” and the verb ending -ulate to suggest getting up and leaving quickly.

The word is hardly ever used these days, but Isaac Bowen used the word in quotes in an August 2, 1846 letter to his wife, Katie Bowen.

Below is an excerpt from his letter about possibly losing the furniture, books, and clothing he had purchased prior to Katie’s arrival at Fort Pickens, Florida. Katie was preparing to leave Houlton, Maine, to join her husband, but as Isaac wrote on May 5, 1846, the order for his company’s departure from Florida to Texas came upon them all like a clap of thunder, as unexpected as it was. The Mexican War had begun.

August 2, 1846 – Camp near Fort Brown, Texas

My dear Wife,

We can never be assured that what we do will eventually be for our good. I left, as I have informed you, all my furniture and nearly all my wearing apparel at Fort Pickens, in charge of the sutler’s clerk. I have learned that he has, in strong phrase, “absquatulated,” having sent my effects to town and disposed of a part of them. Whether I am to lose the whole or not is more than I now know, but I never expect to see any of them again or be able to show anything for them. To me they were worth at least $350. I hope that affairs are not as bad as represented, however, and will wait with all the patience I can, until I hear from some letters that I have written regarding them. Thine ever, Isaac

Two years later, Katie received Isaac’s chest with his “absquatulated” wearing apparel.

April 2, 1848 – Houlton, Maine

Good news I have to tell my dear Isaac today. At long last, the chest has arrived safely. It came on Tuesday in a violent snowstorm. Never was anything fastened so strong. Everything is in perfect order. When the bottom was reached, we found that water had soaked the wood and thoroughly wet a few pieces of linen. A roaring fire soon put all such things to rights and my room was soon gracefully festooned with men’s apparel.

The gold on your London cloak was slightly tarnished, but I wiped it very carefully with a silk cloth and covered it with fine paper. When I opened the box there appeared a breath upon the epaulettes, but it disappeared while drying with a soft silk. Your plume was as fresh as when last you wore it and I propose appearing out with it in my summer hat. Mother and Susan had a great deal of fun at my expense, watching my movements and reporting to Delia.

In my own family, one of our favorite playful words came courtesy of my mother-in-law, Mary Jane Haas. She often used the word flustrated, which is a combination of flustered and frustrated. Sometimes, it’s just the right word choice!