Does "splooting" have an etymology?

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In the summer of 1990, I spent a memorable five weeks at the outstanding summer institute on Indo-European linguistics and archeology held by DOALL (at least that's what we jokingly called it — the Department of Oriental and African Languages and Literatures) of the University of Texas (Austin).  The temperature was 106º or above for a whole month.  Indomitable / stubborn man that I am, I still insisted on going out for my daily runs. 

As I was jogging along, I would come upon squirrels doing something that stopped me in my tracks, namely, they were splayed out prostrate on the ground, their limbs spread-eagle in front and behind them.  Immobile, they would look at me pathetically, and I would sympathize with them.  Remember, they have thick fur that can keep them warm in the dead of winter.

I assumed that these poor squirrels were lying with their belly flat on the ground to absorb whatever coolness was there (conversely put, to dissipate their body heat).  At least that made some sort of sense to me.  I had no idea what to call that peculiar, prone posture.  Now I do.

"What does ‘splooting’ mean? And why are New York’s squirrels doing it?", by Adela Suliman, WP (8/12/22)

Some selections from the article, which has many adorable photographs:

A tweet by the parks agency earlier this week went viral online, confusing and delighting people in equal measure, after it advised: “If you see a squirrel lying down like this, don’t worry; it’s just fine.” It added that “on hot days, squirrels keep cool by splooting (stretching out) on cool surfaces to reduce body heat. It is sometimes referred to as heat dumping.”

When your correspondent, sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned office, looked up splooting online in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the response yielded no results: “The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.”

Another attempt, this time in Britain’s Collins English Dictionary, produced a brief entry for splooting, which it described as British English.

“VERB (intransitive): (of an animal) to lie flat on the stomach with the hind legs stretched out behind the body.

The entry adds, helpfully, that the word’s origin is probably 21st-century slang “perhaps altered from splat.”

Fiona McPherson, a lexicographer at the Oxford English Dictionary, told The Washington Post on Friday: “Sploot is a relatively recent coinage” and has not yet been included in the famed dictionary, although it is “tracking” the word.

“Etymologically, it may be a variant of splat, but I have also seen suggestions that it is a blend of splay and scoot,” she wrote in an email. “It has been quite closely associated with dogs, notably corgis,” but can apply to most animals capable of splooting.

McPherson, a senior editor of new words responsible for adding “amazeballs” to the dictionary, said the act may have become more noticeable in the recent warm weather that many are experiencing, and the word has probably gained popularity amid internet meme culture.

Phonetician John Harris said that while several internet sources suggested the word was derived from “split” or “splat,” he considers this “unlikely” because “there are no regular sound changes in English that would take you from either of these words to sploot.” However, the emeritus professor of linguistics at University College London mused that it could instead be a portmanteau involving the first part of “splay” and the last part of “cute.”

In the United Kingdom, the phenomenon is known more commonly as “pancaking,” squirrel expert Natalia Doran told The Post. “But we’re speaking about the same body position. We see it all the time in our rescue squirrels,” she said.

Jackie Foott of the British Red Squirrel forum, which works to conserve the minority breed, agreed that the pose is a common sight among the species and other animals.

The majority of squirrels in New York’s parks are eastern gray squirrels. Mostly active in the daytime, they can be seen twitching and darting around for nuts, seeds and berries, using their excellent sense of smell.

The mammals can grow between nine and 12 inches long and weigh around 20 ounces. They commonly reside in a “drey,” a type of nest made of leaves. They stay in small family groups and live about three to five years in the city or up to 10 years in rural settings.


Incidentally, my friend Yin Binyong, the polyglot script reformer, said "squirrel" like this:  iskweeril, which reminds me somewhat of "écureuil", the French word for the animal.


Selected readings

[h.t. Francois Lang]


  1. F said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 1:29 am

    “there are no regular sound changes in English that would take you from either of these words to sploot.”

    It sounds to me like a typical humorous and/or baby talk alteration of splat, like "boop" and other similar words related to cute animals.

  2. Marco said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 6:21 am

    The term "splooting" has been used for years for a similar behavior in rabbits on, at least on /r/rabbits on Reddit. Rabbits can "sploot" at any time, though, not just to dump heat. It's a behavior considered cute because the splay-limbed posture generally indicates relaxedness and contentment.

  3. Peter DW said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 7:33 am

    The earliest use of "sploot" I could easily find was at the very end of 2011:

    I had a feeling that the term might have originated on Cute Overload, or a similar "cute animals" blog. They did declare that "Splayed haunch action is cute" on November 14, 2010:

    And by the end of 2011 they were talking about "splayage":

    But I didn't see the word sploot there browsing 2011/2012 pages.

  4. SS said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 12:10 pm

    The word is new to me, but I see squirrels regularly splooting on the telephone wire behind my Philadelphia rowhouse, as can be seen on this recent photo from reddit (not mine) –

    A neighbor of mine theorized that it the electrical impulse traveling through the Verizon wire had some positive stimulating effect while I thought it was more of undercarriage cooling, so it's interesting to learn that the animals also do it on the ground.

  5. Stephen Hart said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 2:31 pm

    Google Ngram Viewer shows instances of "sploot" in 1872, 1887, 1926 and 1967 and the early 1980s before a climb begins in 1986.

    There's also this:
    Reconfiguration of Satisfying Assignments and Subset Sums: Easy to Find, Hard to Connect
    Cardinal, Demaine, Eppstein, Hearnt and Winslow
    which uses the term "sploot."

  6. Michael Watts said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 5:34 pm

    Google Ngram Viewer shows instances of "sploot" in 1872, 1887, 1926 and 1967

    With the same meaning?

    It looks like a nonce word; the fact that it existed in the 19th century doesn't indicate much.

  7. Martin Schwartz said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 7:05 pm

    I posit a blend of "splat" and "scoot"; since "splat" is not a verb,
    but a sort of visually sound-symbolic word, the "scoot" element,
    which suggests the critter's quiclkly sliding into position, would have supplied the status of the blend as a verb. I think "splay" is too semi-learned a word to figure in what is what is a popular invention
    verging on onomatopoeia, and "cute" a judgment too cerebral
    for the required descriptive immediacy of the coinage.
    Martin Schwartz

  8. Emily said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 8:27 pm

    My mom calls this "playing flat rat" with regard to squirrels (not clear whether this generalizes to non-rodents).

  9. Chas Belov said,

    August 14, 2022 @ 9:30 pm

    "Splooting" is a little too close to "splorting," the word I've assigned to the sound when a tank toilet has completed its flush and the bowl is as empty as it can be before refilling. The unfortunately frequent failure of low-flow toilets to splort is a frustration for me, so on flushing, I tend to urge the toilet on with "Please splort."

    That said, I don't imagine speakers of the English language are likely to adjust it to accommodate my idiolect. (And, annoyingly, my computer's spell checker – which recognizes neither splooting nor splorting – wants me to correct idiolect to dialect, which is just wrong.)

  10. M. said,

    August 15, 2022 @ 3:54 am

    The (undefined) instance of "sploot" dated 1872 in Google Books Ngram Viewer occurs in a lecture on how best to construct a "Universal Language." I have not checked the other early instances.

  11. Theo said,

    August 15, 2022 @ 7:02 am

    First usage in r/corgi in Nov 2011:

    Full timeline:,comments&search=true&start=1230764400&end=1325286000&size=100

    Call for upvotes on Urban Dictionary:

    "Victory" declared Dec 2011:

    That would coincide with Peter DW's Twitter result from Dec 2011.

  12. John Lawler said,

    August 15, 2022 @ 3:13 pm

    This is hardly an etymology; I have no idea where it came from. But I do have an idea where it's gone. Sploot turns out to be totally coherent with the first subcategory in the phonosemantic sense of the SPL- assonance in English, which I categorized as "Transition of 1-Dimensional Origin to 2-Dimensional Result", with Origin focus in splay split spline splice splint splinter and Result focus (essentially the impact of a fluid stream) in splotch splash splat splatter splutter.

  13. Rod Johnson said,

    August 15, 2022 @ 5:03 pm

    Glad to see John Lawler weighing in; he was my second thought. My first was Roger Westcott's various articles on "zazzification" and "ooglification," which are hard to track down but they're out there. Here's a secondary cite:

    Wescott, Roger W. (1977), "'Ooglification' in American English Slang", Verbatim, Feb.
    Wescott, Roger W. (1978), "'Zazzification' in American English Slang", Forum Linguisticum, December.

  14. David Deden said,

    August 16, 2022 @ 6:59 am

    Sploot <= Splayed Out

    What English dialect pronounces "out" as "oot"? Canadian?

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    August 16, 2022 @ 8:42 am

    « What English dialect pronounces "out" as "oot" ? » Scots.

  16. Coby said,

    August 16, 2022 @ 10:41 am

    Neither Scots nor Canadians pronounce "out" as "oot"; it's more like the RP version of "oat" ([əʊt]).

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    August 16, 2022 @ 11:35 am

    Well, Coby, that all depends on how you interpret "oot". For me, the sound that a typical Scot might make when saying "out" (as in "hangin' yer arse oot the windae", for example), whilst not identical to my "toot", "root", "shoot" and "boot", is nonetheless /u/ rather than /əʊ/ to my mind (and ear).

  18. Mark Lohr said,

    August 17, 2022 @ 12:22 pm

    OMG – flashback to summer 1974 (ish) when I took an intro Linguistics class from John Lawler.
    Glad to see his post!

  19. Frank said,

    August 18, 2022 @ 5:05 am

    @ Chas Belov

    The bowl-emptying action you describe is an instance of syphoning, but this fails to distinguish the sharp pulse of the toilet's bottoming-out from more steady-state syphon flows. I would call it the scavenging phase of the flushing action but wonder if toilet designers have a proper word for it.

  20. Alyssa said,

    August 19, 2022 @ 11:51 am

    “there are no regular sound changes in English that would take you from either of these words to sploot.”

    It does seem to be a common feature of cutesy internet animal-speak to modify vowels in words. My gut says there's something regular about the pattern but my phonology knowledge isn't up to teasing out what it might be.

    splat -> sploot
    bark -> bork
    snake -> snek
    human -> hooman
    fluff -> floof
    dog -> doge

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