Squick

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Synonyms: antonym of kink
See also: Kink, Squee, Bulletproof Kink, Trigger, YMMV
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Squick is a term commonly used in fannish discussions about fanworks or professional media that describes anything that is a deep-seated, visceral turn-off for the fan.

Squicks may be shared by many fans or be specific to one; one person's kink may be another person's squick. It is more frequently used when discussing sexually explicit works or ones involving forms of violence.

For example, some fans may have an embarrassment squick, and do not enjoy works where a character is embarrassed or in an awkward situation. To quote Vee:
Among my kind, "watch from the hall" is what we call the embarrassment squick, because it's so bothersome you can't even watch it through your fingers and have to leave the room when it's happening.

While squick had early uses that meant skullfucking[1] and a version of YKINMK,[2] through fannish drift its usage has evolved to include 'stuff I don't want to write, read, or receive in a gift exchange'.[3][4][5]

Fanwork creators also sometimes use the term to describe their own work; as of August 13, 2018, there are 319 works on AO3 tagged "Squick."[6]

In the 2010s, the term appeared to have become less popular, to the point where a 2016 Tumblr post lamented the loss of the "old fandom term."[7] On the other hand, two years later, that post had generated over 38,000 notes, so maybe the rumors of squick's death are greatly exaggerated.

Origin

According to The Foresmutters Project, the term was coined on the Usenet group alt.sex.bondage before 1995."[8] Fail_Fandomanon cites alt.tasteless.jokes in 1993 as the source of the term;[9] alt.tasteless.jokes describes it as an onomatopoetic word for a particularly gruesome variation on skullfucking[10]. The Foresmutters Project states that, "There are various revolting descriptions of 'what is a squick' floating around the 'net (many propogated from alt.tasteless), but my research indicates that the original usage was, 'someone else's kink.'"[8] The Wiktionary page for the term cites its origins in alt.sex.bondage, and mentions that it was popularized in alt.tasteless.[11]

One fan recalled the term's non-fannish origins in the BDSM community:

[2017]: As an additional data point, as far as I know the term “squick” comes from the BDSM community, originally. At least that’s where I first encountered it, on BDSM message boards on usenet in the mid-90s – yes, I was on BDSM message boards in the mid-90s; long story. As such, the implicit lack of judgment is important to the meaning of the word; you need a word to mean “I really don’t want to do that, and I don’t want to watch you doing that, but I don’t judge YOU for liking that and I don’t mind if YOU do it … somewhere far away from me.”[12]

It is difficult to know when the term attained enough popular use to be recognized in larger fandom spaces, but a fan in August 1993 used it when she stated: "I also love violence [in fan fiction]. Not all kinds -- some of it squicks me — and not all the time --sometimes I like a happy ending and romance and all that even if it does violate the series atmosphere..." [13] Another August 1993 use: "Grievous Bodily Harm [a Professionals fanfic] didn't squick me, at least the catheters didn't." [14] In 1998, a fan in an X-Files zine wrote: "A warning sticker may appear in the back of this zine - where it won't spoil things for the toughies, but may help the easily squicked." [15]

The term must have been widely enough used in early spring of 2000 because a journalist used it in a fairly knowledgeable way in the article Gross encounters: on the way to writing a profile of Paul Gross, the author discovers his fans are the real story. Reflections on celebrity worship, Internet love and Canada as the Holy Land: "The women seem tolerant of each other's "squicks" -- what turns one on grosses out another."

According to Fail_Fandomanon, another early use was in a Harry Potter incest fic posted on LiveJournal in 2003.[16] According to one anon, this story was "the fic that defined squick. The term was around [before fandom got hold of it], but this is the squick fic that made the usage of the word common and widely understood in fandom."[17] The fic, which was deliberately written to be disturbing, included the sex act described in alt.tasteless.jokes's definition of the word squick, though it cited the FictionAlley Park forums as its source.

Definitions

For the most part, fans seem to generally agree that "squick" is a largely neutral term to describe something - often a trope or pairing - that doesn't appeal to them, while recognizing that it might appeal to other people. The absence of any kind of "value judgment" is often integral to fans' definitions of the term.

[2015]:

Key to the concept of “squick,” as it was first explained to me lo these many years ago, is that it is not a value judgment. If I say “mpreg is gross,” that’s a negative statement about mpreg (and, by extension, about those who enjoy writing or reading about it). If I say “mpreg squicks me,” that’s a value-neutral statement about me and my emotional reactions and how they affect my enjoyment of fiction.[18]

[2016]:

So what, you ask, is a squick?

A squick is an old fandom term for something that makes you supremely uncomfortable and you absolutely do not want to read it. It can be a trope, a ship, a concept, or just an event that happens within a fic or in canon. For me, abused animals are a definite squick. I don’t like it, and will generally avoid reading any graphic descriptions of such. (That includes tumblr gif sets and such too, people! Tag that shit, will you? Even if it has a happy ending.) Another deep, deep squick of mine is infant age play. Don’t like it, don’t get it, don’t want to think about it.

Now, neither of these things are dangerous to my mental or emotional state. I have never experienced either in my life, and they do not bring about any sort of PTSD, dissociation, or spiral of depression, anxiety, etc. They are simply things I prefer not to think about in my daily life, or read about in my escapist hobbies. Therefore, they are not triggers. Triggers are very real, very bad things for some people, and to label things we choose not to read because we find it disturbing or gross or weird is to diminish the very real danger of actual triggers.

I love the term squick. It perfectly describes the concept without assigning any negativity to the thing you dislike, or to people who do like the thing you dislike. It is something you personally do not care for and wish to avoid, simple as that.[7]
[2017]:

I can’t really think of any other words we have for the same concept that aren’t judgmental to some extent. Anything I can think of to try to define “squick” using non-slangy words (disgusting, unpleasant, etc) have a judgy sort of vibe. And we really do need a word to talk about tropes and kinks in the same kind of way we can talk about how you like that ship and I like this ship but that doesn’t make your ship bad.

(Er, ideally we’d be able to talk about ships that way, obviously, in a perfect world … XD)

I was also thinking about how the original ask implies a very modern fannish mindset that’s just … not there, in the original fandom milieu that the squick concept came out of. Not that I’m saying fandom was better in the old days or anything, god no. But trying to explain why you have a squick, or asking someone else why they have theirs, is just not a thing you’d generally do. Squicks are irrational; that’s baked into the meaning of the word. Squicks aren’t something you explain. They just are. I mean, you could obviously try to figure it out, just like you can try to figure out why you have a particular kink, but in both cases, you don’t have to explain or justify it in order for other people to accept it as valid. I don’t need to explain that I like h/c for X and Y reasons in order to request it in an exchange. And squick functions the same way.

All of which makes it a very useful word for talking about fandom concepts without implying that someone else’s tastes make them a bad person! [19]

One fan described "squick" as a kind of shorthand that works primarily communities where there's a degree of implicit trust or civility, as well as a need to easily communicate preferences and boundaries:

[2018]:

The idea of using squick as a trump card against further arguments is strange, because it implies an incredibly hostile environment, which doesn’t really fit with the concept. At least for me, squick comes with the implication that the people involved in the conversation are, if not friends, then at least civil with each other.

For example:

“Can you beta my Peter Parker/Venom fic for me?”

“No, I can’t, Spider-Man squicks the hell out of me.”

Incompatible preferences are unfortunate, but no one is being silenced here.

(Also, if someone keeps waving squicks (or triggers) around like convenient bludgeons intended to silence you whenever they feel like it, you probably don’t have a terminology problem. You have an asshole problem. I recommend blocking.) [20]

While most fans seem to consider "squick" as a successfully neutral term, some feel that there may still be an implicit judgment in the way it's used:

[2012]:

Humans are social creatures. We look for affirmation from our peers. So, if somebody confesses to you, "This turns me on," and your first reaction is, "EW!" that's going to hurt the person you're talking to.[21]

Some fans also emphasize that the onus is on the reader with a particular squick to self-select out of engaging with fanworks that explore or feature that squick:

[2015]:

The most important thing about ‘squick’ is that it puts the responsibility for my reaction to something where it belongs: on me. “I have a squick” or “that squicks me” says “this is my thing to deal with, not the content creator’s”.[22]

Alternate Definitions

While most fans use "squick" as seen above, alternate definitions have been proposed, suggesting that there may not have always been general consensus about the term's meaning. In particular, this 2006 definition posted to the Fanthropology community seems to describe "squick" as an intentional style or genre of fic that's meant to "gross" a reader out:

[2006]:

Squick: In the past called "gross-out" fics, where reader is supposed to be made sick by what they are reading, or disturbed. Think seeing Grandma naked in shower masturbating. Usually associated with comedic stories. Everything that happens to Jim in the American Pie movies is squick.[23]

The Differences Between Triggers and Squicks

Particularly in the context of ongoing conversations about the responsibility to tag potentially sensitive or triggering content in fannish spaces (and whether such content should even have a place in fan communities and archives), "squick" is often lifted up as a necessary piece of fannish vocabulary by fans seeking to draw a distinction between a squick and a trigger.

[2015]

squick: Something that makes you go “ewwww” and wish you had never seen/read it. Something that makes you deeply uncomfortable. Something you’re not interested in reading/seeing/thinking about, ever.

trigger: Something that you associate with/reminds you of a past trauma (mental, emotional, or physical) and therefore triggers your personal reaction to trauma (be it flashbacks, panic/anxiety attacks, unhealthy behaviours, a crying jag, whatever).[24]

[2016]

Squick is a fun term that was often used as both a noun and a verb. Either X was one of your squicks, or X squicked you, or squicked you out, or squicked you hard.

It was often used in fic exchanges. They would ask for a list of your squicks so that the gifting author would know not to include any hint of them. It was also used in casual conversation with fandom friends, authors, artists, etc. It could be left in comments, or as a reason you just didn’t read your best fandom friend’s latest fic. “Sorry, bff, you know I love your writing, but you have X tagged at the top, and that just squicks me out.” “Hey, no worries, best reader friend! I totally get it. Give this one a pass, but I’ll send you a note when I post my next one! I promise it will be totally X-free!”

Here’s the thing though. In your example, you explain why X is your squick with Y. But the beauty of squick was that (at least in my experience) no explanation was necessary. Not only was it not necessary, it was rarely asked for. A squick is a squick, and there doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason. In fact, why would you have a rational, bullet-pointed, well-thought-out argument as to why something squicked you out? Very often it’s a visceral reaction, and if you don’t like the thing, you’re likely not going to sit and do deep meditation on why not.

Squicks were respected by fandom. You don’t like the thing, okay, we will tag the thing appropriately, you do not have to read the thing, no judgments on either side. There was no fandom policing, only respect.

And this, I think, is super important, because fandom policing is a problem, especially when it comes to triggers. “Trigger” has become so overused, so all-encompassing, that people feel they have to defend their legitimate triggers. If X triggers you, it triggers you, and you DO NOT need to provide an explanation. But because “trigger” is so often used in place of “squick,” some people feel they have the right to “call out” those who use the word. They want explanations, they want you to tell them what that triggering concept does to you, so they can call bullshit and feel superior. You don’t have to explain either your squicks or your triggers, but using the correct word stops the fandom police from feeling as though they have the right to ask. Bring “squick” back, people. Don’t devalue triggers, which are horrible, nasty, dangerous things.[25]

#the beauty of squick was that it offered no moral judgement #merely a statement of personal taste #and let you estate when something just wasn’t your cup of tea#without having to justify it #plenty of things squick me out in fic which are absolutely not triggers #but now there’s a real culture of having to justify not liking stuff on a moral basis (via clarias[26])

the culture of justifying dislike on an ideological/moral basis in part one: chapter one of my novel, Let Me Show You My Issues With Tumblr Fandom. the requirement for ideological purity has become so impossibly strict, and is valued so highly, that tearing the thing you dislike from an ideological standpoint is the quickest way to shut it down. it’s a cheap, disingenuous shortcut that exploits social justice language for personal leverage. it’s not like we were free of wankery and ship wars back in ye olde lj days, god, far from it, but at least the insults we flung at each other were subjective: A is so bad for B and if you can’t see that you’re an idiot!!! B/C OTP!!! (i should also disclaim that we did have moral policing as well, it was just FAR less extensive.) leveraging social justice concepts is an attempt to gain a kind of objective superiority. “they’re a dark ship and i don’t like that” holds little power; “they’re abusive and you support abuse by shipping this” is a trump card to shut down the content you don’t like and the people who fan it. that kind of rhetoric is all over the damn place and it continues to be propagated because it works and it has created a culture from which a variety of problems like the trigger issue explained above consistently arise.

…i would go into further chapters on my novel but i am tired now[27]

Meta/Further Reading

External Links

References

  1. alt.tasteless.jokes use of 'squick'
  2. BDSM usage of 'squick' in the 90s
  3. How was squick used?
  4. Yuletide 2018 usage of squick
  5. Meta discussing squick in reference to fic exchanges
  6. Squick tag on AO3. Accessed on August 13, 2018.
  7. 7.0 7.1 What's a squick?, Archived version ask answered by desert-neon, 8 February 2016. (Accessed 14 June 2016.)
  8. 8.0 8.1 Squick page at The Foresmutters Project (accessed December 9, 2009)
  9. 2017-04-14 comment at fail_fandomanon
  10. Contrary to popular belief, it does not involve eyesocket fucking, but does involve trepanning. "Geoff Miller comments: I posted that a year ago, and I *made it up!*" Welcome to alt.tasteless! (Monthly Posting), posted by James Limmer on 19 April 1993.
  11. Squick. Last updated on January 21, 2016. Accessed on August 13, 2018.
  12. laylainalaska.tumblr.com; WebCite
  13. from a fan's trib in Strange Bedfellows #2
  14. August 13, 1993 comment by [E B] on Virgule-L, this same fan also used "squick" in May 22, 1993 in very personal post to that mailing list
  15. from Double eXposure.
  16. *squick* Squickfic, Archived version, posted by nostrademons, 7 May 2003. (Don't read it if you are remotely sensitive. It is written deliberately to be disturbing.)
  17. 2017-04-14 comment in fail_fandomanon
  18. Tumblr post by animatedamerican. Posted on January 5, 2015. Accessed on August 11, 2018.Archived on August 16, 2017.
  19. laylainalaska.tumblr.com; WebCite
  20. stand-up-and-fight-daleks.tumblr; WebCite
  21. The fine line between squick and kink shaming. by pilgrimkitty. Posted on January 3, 2012. Accessed on August 11, 2018. Archived on May 18, 2017.
  22. Tumblr post by roane72. Posted on March 14, 2015. Accessed on August 11, 2018. Archived on March 14, 2016.
  23. Livejournal post by yenesi. Posted on August 15, 2006. Accessed on August 13, 2018. Archived on November 6, 2015.
  24. Tumblr post by jmathieson-fic. Posted on January 5, 2015. Accessed on August 11, 2018. (Accessible only for logged-in users.) Archived on August 11, 2015.
  25. How was squick used?, Archived version, ask answered by desert-neon, 18 February 2016.
  26. Reblog of "How was squick used?", Archived version, tags by clarias, 14 August 2016.
  27. Reblog of "How was squick used?", Archived version, reblog by ibroketuesday, 14 August 2016.