Sciency Words: Squiddish

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Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:


As researchers continue to study squiddish, the language of squid, they are running into an interesting linguistic problem. The problem isn’t with squiddish. It’s with humanese.   We humans don’t have the proper terminology to describe the complex behavior squid use to communicate.


Last week, we talked about chromatophores, the special cells that allow squid to change colors. Squiddish consists of rapid combinations of color patterns and body postures. The 2003 scientific paper “Squid Say It with Skin” attempts to document squid language and suggests terms to describe the “words” or “phrases” of squid speech. Examples include:

  • Full V: a body posture where the squid extends its tentacles in a V-shape.
  • Plaid: a pattern of stripes and bars across the body.
  • Zebra: a pattern of zebra-like stripes which seems to express antagonism. I’m guessing giving a squid the zebra is a little like giving a human the finger.

My favorite is “double signaling”: the simultaneous display two different color patterns, one on each side of the body. In other words, a squid can say one thing to its buddy on the left while saying something completely different to its friend on the right.   This skill will surely come in handy once squid develop a concept of politics.

Our lack of proper terminology is a problem we humans will continue to struggle with as we learn more about nature and our universe. Scientists will just have to keep inventing new words, which means we’ll always have something to talk about here on Sciency Words.

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