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What is a Squib?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Several things are referred to as “squibs.” In explosives, a squib is a small explosive device which works almost like a miniature stick of dynamite. The term is also used more generally to refer to deceptively small things, like an explosive comment in a conversation or a small sailboat which can be used for high speed racing. For fans of the Harry Potter novels, a squib is a child born to a magical family who lacks magical ability; the term is taken from an English slang phrase, “squib,” which refers to a firework which fails to ignite.

In the sense of explosives, a squib is a small tube packed with an explosive charge. It can be detonated with a fuse or a remote control, depending on how it is wired. Despite the small size, a squib can pack a serious explosive punch which makes it extremely useful. Early squibs were used to detonate cannons, since their smaller charge could rapidly ignite the powder in the cannon, firing the cannonball.

There are other uses for squibs. These small explosives can cause a rapid expansion of gases, for example, and they are the force behind air bags in cars. Squibs are also used in special effects for film and stage; one common use of squibs is as fake bullets which will explode blood packs worn by actors to make it look as though the actor has been hit. Fireworks professionals may also use squibs in the course of their work, as will other explosive experts.

Squibs also pop up in some interesting places. They are the power behind ejection seats in military aircraft, for example, and they are also used in planes to throw out chaff, which distracts approaching aircraft or missiles.

This explosives use led to slang terms like “wet squib,” since a squib which is wet cannot light up, because the moisture soaks the charge and the fuse. Some regions of the world simply refer to any dud firework as a squib.

In the world of Harry Potter, squibs are relatively unusual, and they are sometimes viewed as figures of pity. Because they are born into a magical world, they are aware of their potential, and they may also experience pressure from their families to express magical abilities. Some squibs live at the fringes of the magical world as servants and clerks, while others pursue lives in the muggle community, where they will not be constantly reminded of their failure.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon938297 — On Mar 08, 2014

A squib is also an Australian term for a coward or pretender while a damp squib means a pretender -- hence, shunned ! It's all a historical reference to small explosive device that was quite often unreliable as it tended to absorb air moisture.

By behaviourism — On Jul 18, 2011

@vogueknit17- I know there are other words she reused as well as Squib. For example, Hogwarts is really similar to the hogwart, a type of herb. Also, the word Quidditch is the name of at least one road in Britain, maybe more. I don't know if Rowling has actually said she took the words from these sources, but it is possible.

By vogueknit17 — On Jul 17, 2011

I didn't realize squib had any other meaning, and just assumed that JK Rowling had invented the word all by herself. Knowing it was another thing first makes me wonder what other words she might have taken and given new meanings.

By manykitties2 — On Jul 17, 2011

@JessiC - The idea of mudbloods and squibs always caught my interest. I love Harry Potter and think it's great that J.K. Rowling tried to so accurately reflect our own world and its issues in the magical realm of wizards and witches.

For myself I always found it heartbreaking how squibs and mudbloods were persecuted and separated from the rest of society just because they didn't have enough magic in their blood.

I used to read a lot of fan fiction and squibs were often the topic of those authors who wanted to explore that feeling of on the outside looking in.

By letshearit — On Jul 17, 2011

When I first read the word squib I definitely thought of the shunned characters in Harry Potter. I remember reading about those without magical ability and how they struggled to fit in with wizard society, only to be locked out and teased for their lack of magic.

This was a very poignant example of how we treat those in our own societies that are different from what is considered the norm.

How do you feel the situations faced by the non-magical squib reflect what happens in our own lives?

I am curious to hear what others think about one of the most popular characters in modern history.

By JessiC — On Jul 16, 2011

I thought it was very interesting how Rowling mirrored many of the prejudices of our own society within the Harry Potter series. A squib is one of many of these parallel ideals, as is the negative idea of ‘mudbloods.’

While it is certain that it is difficult in this day and age to be born ‘differently’ either within your family or your community, it can be turned to a useful outlet. Many people who feel different also look for a haven outside of the place where they stand out.

This appeared to be the case with Harry’s muggle neighbor, who was also a squib. I love the way that Rowling made her both useful to the magical community and a key figure in being a savior to Harry Potter, the chosen one, himself.

Perhaps some of this good and written between the lines wisdom is rubbing off on her fans.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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