Word for affectionate squeezing hazard?
April 23, 2007 10:36 PM   Subscribe

And I will hug him and squeeze him and call him George! Somewhere I read that there was a specific word in some language to describe the feeling of restraining overwhelming affection because the urge to hug and squeeze with all one's might could actually harm the subject, e.g. puppies, infants, petite girlfriends. I've searched all over with no luck. Ring any bells?
posted by Tubes to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Smothering.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:56 PM on April 23, 2007


Smothering is an action, and can be intentional & malicious or accidental. I'm looking for a word for that quivering feeling of holding back when something or someone is so adorable you can barely stand it.
posted by Tubes at 11:11 PM on April 23, 2007


kvelling?
posted by Carsey at 11:17 PM on April 23, 2007


Nervio!
posted by ZaphodB at 11:25 PM on April 23, 2007 [25 favorites]


What a great word!
posted by miss lynnster at 11:51 PM on April 23, 2007


Oh gosh, YES. It's that word when people think something is so cute they want to "squeeze it" (to death). It's where people say things about how they could just eat the cute little baby or bite it!

In my travel to Indonesia, I learned there is a word for this very thing. I wrote it down and have long since misplaced and forgotten it. Any Indonesian speakers that can help out?
posted by loquat at 12:27 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


loquat: I live in Holland, but my father and his family who live here are from Indonesia (the Dutch Indies to be exact). I was smothered many many times and can't help it but I do it with my children too. Whenever they start shouting I say "Adoe, gemus!" Or the high pitched geeeeemmmmmuuuuusssssss. I don't know what it means exactly, (adoe means 'ouch")but strangling your children out of love is definately 'gemus'. Don't shoot me on the spelling and hey, it can be done with pets too.
posted by ouke at 1:45 AM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Nervio is obviously what the OP was after, but there's also:
- the expression "I could just eat you up!" (which — J. Dahmer aside — is usually distinct from true cannibalism)
- sublimation: to modify the natural expression of a primitive, instinctual impulse in a socially acceptable manner
- the marvelously malleable German language for assembling the perfect portmanteau, e.g., the bogus concoction das Backenkneifenzurückhaltung (lit: cheek-pinching-restraint)
posted by rob511 at 3:13 AM on April 24, 2007


Oh wow..I've been wondering this too. Nervio hits it on the head.
(I've always called it the Squee! Effect, but people don't take you very seriously when you say Squee!)
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:15 AM on April 24, 2007


I'm not very good at resisting nervio. I often bite and squeeze babies. But they usually laugh. Usually.
posted by DU at 4:44 AM on April 24, 2007


Also, what is the evolutionary basis for nervio? Or is it a side-effect/exaggeration of regular love/protection urges the way that a sweet tooth is of a need to find sugars?
posted by DU at 4:47 AM on April 24, 2007


well, remember in evolution, the traits we have aren't there for a reason--we just have them because they don't prevent us from procreating. we are not designed to be the best humans we can be, we just happen to be the least dysfunctional.

in this case, i would guess that it wasn't selected against (as, say, cannibalizing our young would have been) because it helped more babies reach adulthood.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:48 AM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


..we just have them because they don't prevent us from procreating

It still had to come from somewhere originally. A mutation? Or a vestige of something else? Cats (and probably other mammals, but I don't have many chimpanzees in my house, the twins notwithstanding) can be pretty rough with their kittens when they are cleaning them. Maybe it's some kind of forced grooming instinct?
posted by DU at 6:11 AM on April 24, 2007


DU, it doesn't have to come from somewhere. Human behaviour is far to complex and flexible to be attributable in simplistic ways to "evolutionary advantage."

That said, baboons do something like this, but in a way that defies a good evolutionary explanation. Their babies are born with black fur, and the sight of black fur seems to trigger something in both males and females. They will take the infant and cuddle it and hold it. However, they are often unwilling to relinquish the babies, and if the mother is low ranking, young, or generally meek, sometimes the baby dies of starvation.
posted by carmen at 6:40 AM on April 24, 2007


Human behaviour is far to complex and flexible to be attributable in simplistic ways to "evolutionary advantage."

Sure, if we're talking about, I dunno, the way people check out prospective apartments or how they sip their drinks. But this is universal, nearly-irresistible human behavior specifically related to childcare and with no obvious physical reason.

That's awesome about baboons, though.
posted by DU at 6:46 AM on April 24, 2007


I've always thought of snorgling as hyperfocused 'tip-of-the-spear' affection. Directional, drill-like contact. Last resort of someone in nervio, I guess.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:50 AM on April 24, 2007


Semi related thread about the urge to eat babies.
posted by metaname at 8:45 AM on April 24, 2007


Not to be a party-pooper, but nervio is just the Spanish word for 'nerve.' It also means 'tendon, sinew' and (figuratively) 'vigor, strength, (moral) fiber, toughness,' but I've never seen or heard it used in this sense (and I lived in Argentina for some years). Obviously I'm not saying Lizette Greco made it up, but it may have been a usage peculiar to her family; at most, it might be a bit of local Chilean slang. None of which is to say you shouldn't adopt it as a loan word, but don't expect Spanish speakers you try it on to know what you're talking about.
posted by languagehat at 8:47 AM on April 24, 2007


Ah! Thanks, ZaphodB, the Nervio post was definitely what I was remembering! Upon re-reading it, though, I see that languagehat's point is actually made in the first sentence of the article itself: "...the nuanced meaning that the Spanish word nervio had acquired in the lexicon of her family. As used in their Chilean home..." I didn't catch that right away.

I may adopt the usage myself, and it's nice to know that others have experienced the sensation. I too wonder about the evolution of this instinct. I can imagine it as a remnant of an urge to curl up around an infant to protect it from roaming predators in the night...
posted by Tubes at 9:24 AM on April 24, 2007


I've been told that the Tagalog word "gigil" can be used to describe this feeling.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:40 AM on April 24, 2007


Not to derail, but this is one of the creepiest things I've ever read. I had always thought phrases like "squeeze him until he pops" were completely metaphorical, if a bit macabre. To find out that enough people actually, literally have that urge, to the extent that they need a word for it, is quite unsettling.
posted by kindall at 10:34 AM on April 24, 2007


kindall, it may casually be used as a metaphor, but when you see someone actually shiver with delight and say "I could squeeze her to death" or "I could squeeze him until he pops" the phrase really ends with an implicit "...if I'm not careful." They don't want to cause harm, but recognize or imagine that their affection is so strong that they accidentally could.
posted by Tubes at 11:22 AM on April 24, 2007


I find the phenomenon comforting; that a feeling of love and intimacy can be so physically and mentally aggressive that it temporarily overwhelms our reason.

(lustful implications aside, I think it's proof of emotional vibrancy and should be celebrated)
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:10 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Maurice Sendak has said that he was inspired in writing Where the Wild Things Are by his older relatives visiting the family home every sabbath for the big meal. In between devouring all the courses greedily, they would pinch the children on their cheeks and say, "I could just eat you all up!" I'm sure everyone can recall semi-scary aunts and uncles like that, right? It's even worse when they have hair growing out of unusual places ...

By the way, loquat and ouke, I just confirmed with a friend from Indonesia who works down the hall that there is indeed a bahasa word that is used in this sense, gamas (pronounced gamuhs, equal stress, second syllable more of a schwa than an A). He commented that it is not usually said on its own but rather with a prefix and suffix to make it into an active verb. He also says that the sense depends on context, and in other contexts, the sense of the word is more akin to frustration.
posted by Araucaria at 4:43 PM on April 24, 2007


Related.
posted by rob511 at 11:04 PM on April 24, 2007


DU, it doesn't have to come from somewhere. Human behaviour is far to complex and flexible to be attributable in simplistic ways to "evolutionary advantage."

That said, baboons do something like this, but in a way that defies a good evolutionary explanation. Their babies are born with black fur, and the sight of black fur seems to trigger something in both males and females. They will take the infant and cuddle it and hold it. However, they are often unwilling to relinquish the babies, and if the mother is low ranking, young, or generally meek, sometimes the baby dies of starvation.
posted by carmen at 6:40 AM on April 24 [+]
[!]


I don't think this really does defy evolutionary explanation, carmen. Being of higher rank ought to mean being more likely to reproduce -- your genes increase in the population at the expense of theirs, especially if population numbers are static because of environmental constraints, making it a zero sum game.

I think what you are describing is higher ranking baboons increasing their fitness by committing infanticide. What makes it weird and strange and horrible is that this programmed tendency to commit infanticide looks so much like loving and nurturing.

I would also go so far as to say that the savage consuming appetite people feel in their love of babies is an indication we have very similar programming; that the intensity of the emotion we feel toward babies can turn terrible and murderous in the worst of all possible worlds, in war, or if we go mad.
posted by jamjam at 5:31 PM on April 25, 2007


Ya, I thought someone might say that. But the thing is that rank and meekness and, obviously, age can all change over the course of a lifetime. Also, high ranking males often impregnate low-ranking females, so it doesn't make sense to think of "rank" as some sort of natural trait. It's an analytical construct that researchers use to categorize certain kinds of behaviour. This kind of infantacide isn't targeted enough to represent any obvious sort of advantage.


But this is now wildly off topic, so I shall leave it for another time.
posted by carmen at 2:33 PM on April 26, 2007


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