Intermediate+ Word of the Day: squeal

squeal (noun, verb) /skwil/ LISTEN

A squeal is a long, sharp cry, as of pain, surprise, fear, or excitement or a screeching sound. Informally, in US English, a protest or complaint about something can be called a squeal. As a verb, squeal obviously means ‘to make such a sharp cry or sound’ and, informally, ‘to complain.’ As a slang term, it also means ‘to give information about someone or something to the police or an authority figure.’

Example sentences

  • John let out a squeal of surprise.
  • I heard the squeal of brakes and then a crash.
  • Someone went to HR with a squeal about unprofessional behavior from the men in this department.
  • Bob squealed when his numbers came up on the lottery.
  • The hinges on the old gate squealed as Natalie opened it.
  • The drunks squealed at being thrown out of the bar.
  • Somebody must have squealed, because when the gang arrived at the bank to commit the robbery, the police were already there waiting for them.

In pop culture

Listen to American rock band No Doubt’s song “Squeal” here:

Did you know?

Although most animals will squeal if they are in pain or frightened, a squeal is one of the sounds pigs make normally (they also grunt, oink, and snort), like the sound you can hear in this clip:

Other forms

squealer (noun)


Squeal dates back to the late 13th century, in the form of the Middle English verb squelen. Its origin is imitative of the sound itself. As such, it is not directly related to words in other languages, though some may be very similar, such as the Old Norse skvala (to cry out). The English word squall, which can also mean ‘to cry out,’ is probably from a related Scandinavian source. The sense ‘to complain or protest is figurative, and dates back to the late 16th century, while the slang sense ‘to inform on someone’ appeared in the mid-19th century. The noun comes from the verb, and dates back to the mid-18th century.

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