Surfing the state and national headlines last weekend I happened upon a word I’d never seen before, applied to squirrels, of all things, all over Texas.
Curious, I clicked the headline, which carried me to a story, written originally for the San Antonio Express News but republished in the Houston Chronicle, about how in this miserable oven setting otherwise known as “today’s temperature” – a weather anomaly that’s been with us for half of 2022 now – even the squirrels were employing an all-new method of beating the heat.
They called it “splooting” and because I’ve never a big fan of squirrels (tree rats, mostly) and this sounded something like a child might tell Mom after she hears a loud boom from some back corner of the house (as in “I didn’t do nuthin: It just sploded, all by itself”), I eagerly clicked ahead to the image gallery.
To my disappointment, none involved any rodents spontaneously combusting (though that would’ve been kinda cool, you gotta admit). Rather, it showed a whole slew of them, lazing about in – how should I put it?
Picture a bear skin rug. Most folks know about those. From the movies, at least? Probably inside some distant yet swanky hunting lodge someplace. A museum display, perhaps?
Well, imagine somebody made one out of squirrel. Wouldn’t take up near as much space, but you have the general idea, at least. Belly all the way down. Four legs, sans any skeletal support, just flat to the ground, too, pointed to the Four Winds.
Apparently, as thermometers climb to 108-degrees near daily, there were sightings of squirrels splayed out in like fashion to cool off, usually along some patch of shaded concrete someplace, across Texas.
Naturally, I suppose, pictures of them popped up all over social media, too, along with that curious word, “splooting.”
Not a “sploot” user himself, San Antonio’s Police Chief Bill McManus captured a squirrel doing exactly that a couple weeks ago. “Was leaving city hall and found this squirrel trying to cool off in the shade,” he tweeted. “Thought he was hurt/dead at first but that wasn’t the case. He reassumed his position as soon as I walked away. Funny!”
Also in the report, a viral TikTok video of a Dallas squirrel “splooting” had been viewed more than 4.3 million times and collected more than 316,000 likes and 2,800 comments.
They’ve since poured in from all over Texas — Austin, Wichita Falls, Laredo, Houston, El Paso, Jefferson, San Angelo, Lubbock, Tyler – in the East Texas town of Liberty, someone even caught one of those rare black squirrels in a full-fledged “sploot.”
So, I did what any self-respecting English major would do. I grabbed my dictionary. Let’s see … split, splodge, splotch, splurge… Webster’s never heard of it. American Heritage and Oxford neither.
It’s probably a newer word, I reasoned. Let’s see, the print date is. . . 1976? Jeeze, that’s almost as old as me. OK, online it is — (keys clicking) S-P-L-O-O-T-I-N-G and Enter – here we go.
No, I didn’t mean “sporting.” Not “spooling,” either. “Spontaneous combustion?” Maybe later.
Finally, Dictionary.com had what I was looking for:
“Sploot is part of a growing lexicon of DoggoLingo, which uses cute, deliberate misspellings and onomatopoeias like mlem, blep, smol, borf and heckin to fawn over man’s best friend online, along with the many, many pictures and videos we post of them.”
Exact origins are unclear, but a popular radio show lexicographer suggests sploot may riff on the word splat to characterize the flat, spread-out appearance of a sploot pose. It mirrors other changes to existing words in DoggoLingo, anyway, like substituting chonky for chunky.
“Sploot is especially associated with corgis, a squat breed of dogs with very short legs,” it continues. “Use of sploot, with pets, is evidenced since at least 2012. Similar terms for the same pose are frog-legging and frogging. While begun with corgis, other animals from pet turtles to polar bears at the zoo and even people can be described as splooting.
“Prior to the DoggoLingo version, sploot occasionally was used as slang for … um, messy, wet bodily functions (example: “Ew. The seagull just splooted on me.”)
“Sploot can be a noun for the pose itself as well as a verb for the act of splooting. Variations on sploot include the side sploot (legs stretched to the side), half sploot (one leg stretched back) and reverse sploot (lying on the back, not belly). Sploot is sometimes used as an alternative for “veg out” or “crash on the couch.” Veterinarians caution that in some instances, especially for large dogs, splooting may be a sign of hip dysplasia.”
So, there you have it – wait, what’s that? — well I never…
The final line: “NOTE: This is not meant to be a formal definition of sploot like most terms defined on Dictionary.com but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of meaning and usage that will help our users expand their word mastery.”