This is what happens when the McNally Jackson Tumblr gets snowed in—and it is glorious.
This is the Ngram for the word “squitchy”—it shows up early in Moby-Dick in a favorite sentence: “It was a boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to drive a nervous man distracted.” (The nerds will get a kick out of the gigantic uptick in the 1920s.)
The only other entry that predates Melville’s squitchy in Moby-Dick (1851) is from the Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, Vol. X (it’s British) in 1840:
There are all kinds of excuses brought forward for the destruction of this ever-to-be-cared-for property such as a foul turf, a sour turf, a strong turf, a mossy turf, a squitchy turf, &c.; but I feel confident that all those excuses are visionary when compared with the loss of the turf.
On the next page:
…and a vegetable of much less pretensions than any of the former (the cabbage) will grow to an immense size in nothing else but the decomposing weeds of the garden, the very thing which the agriculturist destroys when he burns his squitchy turf.
Those are the only non-Melville entries in that time period, save one mention of Squitchy Field, a meadow in England. (The Free Schools and Endowments of Staffordshire, and their fulfilment by George Griffith (author of The Free Schools of Worcestershire, and their Fulfilment—Michiko Kakutani said no author better limns the dark recesses of our free schools, and their fulfilments.))
The OED is mostly quiet on the word. It defines “squitchy” as “squishy” (invites you to compare it to the verb “squich”) and calls it rare. Moby-Dick is the only citation. A 1:1 squishy:squitchy switch doesn’t feel right, though: squitchy’s twitchier, more nervous, more distractible.
Melville uses it again in his story “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo! Or, the Crowning of the Noble Cock of Beneventano,” which ran in Harper’s in 1854. (In the same volume of Harper’s, there’s a piece called “Aboard a Sperm Whaler,” which is un-bylined but doesn’t sound like Melville—too hokey.) “It was a cool and misty damp disagreeable air,” writes Melville in “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!”
The country looked underdone, its raw juices squirting out all round. I buttoned out this squitchy air as well as I could with my lean double-breasted dress-coat—my over-coat being so long skirted I only used it in my wagon—and spitefully thrusting my crab-stick into the oozy sod bent my blue form to the steep ascent of the hill.
I couldn’t get to work today because of the snow and my broken foot, but may your coats stay firmly buttoned, your crab-sticks ever strong, and your forms unbent against the wind as the snow gets gray and squitchy.
Squitchy! A word that needs resurrecting.