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Idiom

A Damp Squib: Origin and Meaning

Meaning
Something that fails to satisfy expectations, that is less impressive than expected. A disappointment or anti-climax.
Origin
A damp squibFirst and foremost, a squib should not to be confused with a squid.

A squid is a marine animal with long tentacles that is delicious fried, and which is usually damp as it lives in the sea. A squib, on the other hand, is a type of old-fashioned cylindrically-shaped firework which looks a bit like a stick of dynamite and which, like for most incendiary devices, would not work if it gets wet. Squib and squid are as different as chalk and cheese, yet many many people still misquote this idiomatic expression and often pronounce it “a damp squid” instead of a squib.

A damp squib refers to the disappointment of something not meeting expectations. Imagine it’s bonfire night and everyone is super excited and looking forward to the beautiful firework display that will soon light up the sky. The first couple of fireworks go off with a bang and everyone is cheerfully oohing and ahhing. Now, imagine the disappointment when then you pick up a firework not realising it’s got damp. You carefully light it, you hear the initial sizzle and hiss, and then slowly the flame fizzles out and dies. It’s so disappointing and such an anti-climax… a proper damp squib.
Examples
– The event was a bit of a damp squib… only 20 people turned up.

– The weightlifter proved that he was no damp squib, by stepping up his game.

– We expected the film to win 3 Oscars, but what a damp squib it proved to be.