‘squander-bug’: meanings and origin (British usage)

In British-English usage, squander-bug first occurred as the name of a devilish insect symbolising reckless extravagance and waste during the Second World War (1939-45).

This name was introduced in 1943 by the National Savings Committee [cf. note 1] in a government publicity campaign promoting economy. This publicity campaign was announced as follows in The Banbury Advertiser (Banbury, Oxfordshire, England) of Wednesday 6th January 1943:

THE “SQUANDER BUG” AT LARGE.
LORD KINDERSLEY’S APPEAL. [cf. note 2]

The National Savings Committee are directing special attention to the vital necessity for a general reduction in expenditure on non-essential articles and a consequential increase in War Savings investments. Lord Kindersley has been making strong appeals for more careful spending, and now National Savings publicity is taking an unusual form by the introduction of the “Squander Bug,” described as the “prince of fifth columnists,” who is “devouring good money that ought to be fighting for Britain.” The basis of this new campaign is that the “Squander Bug” is becoming more and more insidious in its task of tempting people to squander money on all kinds of unnecessary goods, and the public are warned strongly against its machinations.
It is impossible to emphasise this dangerous disposition to spend on nonessentials too strong]y. If one is attacked by the bug there is a simple and efficacious remedy in an immediate dose of War Savings.
Another matter which is exercising the National Savings Committee is the hoarding of money in various quarters. There is renewed evidence of the fact that money which might be usefully employed in the war effort is being retained by people for quite unjustifiable reasons, and an appeal is made to everyone to invest in War Savings to the utmost extent.

These are three of the government advertisements:

1-: From The People (London, England) of Sunday 3rd January 1943:

MORE WAGES THIS WEEK—YOU CAN BUY LOTS OF AWFUL TRASH!

DON’T LISTEN TO THE SQUANDER BUG!

Beware the treacherous Squander Bug! He’s the prince of fifth-columnists—doesn’t believe in a nest-egg for the future—doesn’t believe in making money fight for Britain. He’s all for chucking good money away on useless things that don’t help to win the war. Don’t let him fool you. Buy Savings Certificates with all you can spare. Join a Savings Group to defeat the Squander Bug!
Savings Certificates cost 15/-—and are worth 20/6 in ten years—increase free of income tax. Can be bought by instalments with 6d., 2/6 or 5/- Savings Stamps through your Savings Group or Centre or any Post Office or Trustee Savings Bank. Buy now!

ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL SAVINGS COMMITTEE

2-: From The Lancashire Daily Post (Preston, Lancashire, England) of Thursday 7th January 1943:

COME ON!—FANTASTIC PRICES AND IT DOESN’T HELP THE WAR A BIT!

BEWARE THE SQUANDER BUG!

He’s everywhere—in the streets, shops, and market places, trying to get you to buy things you don’t need. He’s on the side of the Nazis, devouring good money that ought to be fighting for Britain. Turn your back on the little brute! See that your money does a war job! Join a Savings Group and buy one or more Savings Certificates every week!
Savings Certificates cost 15/- and are worth 20/6 in 10 years—increase free of income tax. They can be bought by instalments with 6d., 2/6 or 5/- Savings Stamps through your Savings Group or Centre or any Post Office or Trustee Savings Bank. Buy now!

ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL SAVINGS COMMITTEE

3-: From The Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette (Sunderland, Durham, England) of Saturday 13th February 1943:

LOVELY MUSIC! ALL THAT FOR A LOT OF USELESS STUFF

WATCH THE SQUANDER BUG

He loves to prowl around on polished counters and hear the cash registers knocking up the pounds, shillings and pence spent on things you can do without. ‘Nice work,’ he chuckles, ‘doesn’t help the war effort a bit!’ Be on your guard against this little fifth-columnist. Put your spare cash into Savings Certificates where it’s safe until you need it. Make your money fight for Britain!
Savings Certificates cost 15/-—and are worth 20/6 in 10 years—increase free of income tax. They can be bought outright or by instalments with 6d., 2/6 or 5/- Savings Stamps through your Savings Group or Centre or any Post Office or Trustee Savings Bank. Buy now!

ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL SAVINGS COMMITTEE

The earliest occurrence that I have found of squander-bug used without explicit reference to the government publicity campaign is from the following advertisement, published in the Evening Express (Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland) of Tuesday 9th February 1943:

KILL that Squander Bug! Why Buy a New Fur Coat when for a few pounds Your Old Fur Coat can be completely Re-Styled by our Ingenious Process. (No Coupons required). New Lustre is added to tired skins. Old Shapes Re-Blended to New Styles. Styling that will bring you Right Up-to-Date. Willsons, Aberdeen, 39 Union Street.

The earliest transferred use of squander-bug that I have found is from the Football section of the Leven Mail (Leven, Fife, Scotland) of Wednesday 10th February 1943:

EAST FIFE SNAP CHANCES
DUNFERMLINE SQUANDER THEIRS.
GOALS RETRIEVE GAME.

But for the five goals there would have been very little to write about the East Fife-Dunfermline game. It was a hard battle—but incidents were few.
East Fife were better balanced all over and the forwards made good use of their chances. Dunfermline’s forwards on the other hand seemed to have been bitten by the “squander bug.” They had two livewire forwards in Dougan and McGillivray. Unfortunately for them it takes more than two good forwards to get the upper hand of Snedden and company.

The noun squander-bug soon came to also denote one who is profligate with money or resources.

The earliest occurrence of this acceptation of squander-bug that I have found is from Letters to the Editor, published in the Evening Chronicle (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, England) of Saturday 30th January 1943:

BUS CONDUCTRESS complains that on entering several shops in the city last week to buy a torch battery, she was given to understand she must buy a complete torch to obtain one, and asks must we ignore the country’s warning not to become a “squander bug”?—a torch every two weeks.

In his column Miscellany, published in The Manchester Guardian (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Monday 17th May 1943, Gordon Phillips (1890-1952), writing under the pen name of ‘Lucio’, also used squander-bug in the sense of one who is profligate with money or resources:

Utility Ascot
“I didn’t see you at Ascot on Saturday,” said the Red Queen.
“No,” said Alice. “I wasn’t there. Were you?”
“Rather!” said the Red Queen heartily. “A very enjoyable little break, child! An austerity Ascot, of course—no fashion show or anything like that.”
“Weren’t you tired?” inquired Alice solicitously. “Rather a long way to walk, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t walk,” said the Red Queen promptly. “I went by car.”
“I thought people weren’t supposed to use petrol for going to race meetings for pleasure?” said Alice.
“Pawns aren’t; kings and queens can,” said the Red Queen. “Don’t you know the rules of chess yet, child?”
“What was the food like?” asked Alice, changing the subject. “I see some accounts say it was bottled beer and spam sandwiches, others that there was a brisk demand for chicken and lobster snacks at four-and-six a time and champagne at 32s. 6d. a half-bottle. Which did you have?”
The Luck of the Draw
“Now you’re asking!” said the Red Queen archly. “All I can tell you, child, is that it was a thoroughly enjoyable change and tonic for hundreds of weary war-workers and battle-scarred warriors.”
“And a few others who are doing quite well out of the war,” suggested Alice. “Any squander-bugs present?”
“Certainly not, child—they’re all warned off the turf under the Rules of Racing.”
Alice gave a small sigh.
“No need to go sighing in that envious and unbecoming way!” said the Red Queen severely.
“I’m not envious,” said Alice; “I’m glad that you and all the others had a good time at Ascot. But I sometimes wonder why total war gives some people all the lectures and other people all the fun, why some people have money to burn and others have to stand in queues to make ends meet.”
“Don’t be a little ignoramus!” said the Red Queen blandly. “That’s not total war—it’s just life in general.”

In order to denounce war profiteers, ‘Lucio’ had already used Alice and the Red Queen, the fictional characters created by the English author Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – 1832-1898), in his column Miscellany, published in The Manchester Guardian (Manchester, Lancashire, England) of Friday 30th April 1943:

Diamonds Led
“Are you doing anything in the diamond racket, child?” demanded the Red Queen suddenly.
“I didn’t know there was such a thing,” said the surprised Alice.
“Oh, yes, there is—some of the papers are full of it. It seems some people go round trying to pick up diamonds as you or I might go round trying to pick up a bit of fish or some fancy biscuits.”
“Do you mean they queue up for diamonds?” asked Alice with interest. “How very picturesque and exciting!”
“Of course they don’t queue up!” said the Red Queen. “It’s one of the darkest branches of the black market, child—people put their money in diamonds because they daren’t put it in the bank.”
“What about those squander bugs?” asked Alice.
“Squander bugs?” echoed the Red Queen. “Why, people in the diamond racket are bitten by squander bugs the size of Churchill tanks! And they like it—it just tickles them to death.”
“Well, it seems to me very wrong,” said Alice. “Why should some people have money to burn on diamonds when I can’t stand myself a new frock?”
“Because,” announced the Red Queen blandly, “it takes all sorts to make a world. And, my word, child, it takes more than all sorts to make a war!”

The noun squander-bug soon gave rise to the verb squander-bug and to the verbal noun squander-bugging:

The earliest occurrence of the verb squander-bug that I have found is from Rugby Gossip, published in The Rugby Advertiser (Rugby, Warwickshire, England) of Tuesday 25th May 1943:

WAR TOPICS AT DRAGON
ON DIT

[…]
“WINGS FOR VICTORY”
That Stumps said, talking of Hum Guard, what about this savings wik as they was a-getting up.
That Old Joage said it was proper Guv’ment road o’ doing things. Here they was, he said, a-planning and a-scheming to make you save what you hadn’t never got, and consekently couldn’t never save, and what did they do theirselves?
That, he went on, village main strit wasn’t more’n hundred yards long, and he counted as he come along to Dragon as there was about thirty-seven playcards sticked up on walls and in winders, all sorts, sizes, and colours, most of ’em silly enough for an infants’ school’s baby class, all telling you to save.
That, said Old Joage, think of the paper as was being wasted, and your noospaper so big as a handkercher, and dropped to pieces when you folded it up, to say nothing of putting the fire out when your missis tried to light fire with it, and then there was all the inks and colours, and sending playcards round in a car with a dolled-up wench as was all lipstick and powder where she wasn’t stockings and fancy uniform, and yet they talked o’ petrol eckerconomy and saving rubber.
That, Old Joage proceeded, he lay as Guv’ment wouldn’t never make tuppence outer Our Village when savings wik come to reckoned up.
That, he said, here they was a-squander-bugging the savings as they already had outer you in telling you as you must save some more, and then, he reckoned they’d do it all over again.

The earliest occurrence of the verbal noun squander-bugging that I have found is from the column Trends of Things Day by Day, published in The Halifax Daily Courier and Guardian (Halifax, Yorkshire, England) of Thursday 26th August 1943:

Conscience Smote Her.
Two women, engaged on a shop-seeing tour in Halifax yesterday afternoon, spent many minutes in studying the window display at a milliner’s establishment. They surveyed the collection of hats carefully, and eventually their attention was focussed on one particular model. It delighted the eye of the younger woman. She studied it from all angles, murmured ecstatically to her companion about its charm, and was on the point of entering the shop to consider purchasing the model when her conscience appeared to trouble her. She turned away, had another glance at the hat, and then told her friend, “It is lovely and I really should enjoy wearing it, but I’m afraid it would be ‘squander-bugging.’ After all, I’ve enough hats at present. Camel along, dear, I’ll leave it.”

The adjective squander-buggian occurs in the following from the Surrey Mirror (Reigate, Surrey, England) of Friday 14th January 1944:

THE AUDACIOUS SQUANDERBUG.
Mr. AND MRS. CARELESS-SPENDER “NABBED” AT REDHILL.
A “MOVING DRAMA” FOR SATURDAY SHOPPERS.

Some Redhill shoppers, unaware of what was “in the wind,” rubbed their eyes, pinched themselves, or did other things which the uncertainly awake are supposed to do, when on Saturday afternoon they espied capering and dancing in Station-road, a real live Squanderbug. Then, having got over their initial surprise, they accepted what followed as another addition to the excitements of Saturday afternoon shopping.
Just as the Squanderbug was thumbing his nose (only metaphorically, of course!) at the Redhill Savings Centre on the opposite side of the road, there emerged from the Warwick Hotel a couple who were obviously destined by fate for a Squanderbuggian bite; their visiting cards, obligingly hung round their necks, proclaimed them to be Mr. and Mrs. Careless-Spender. Mrs. C-S. seemed not to notice the ingratiating tap on the shoulder with which the Squanderbug made his preliminary advances, so it tried her hubby, and received for its pains a poke in the ribs from an umbrella. The bug was not deterred; he knew from experience that nobody sets out william-nilliam in war-time to spend money which is needed to beat his pal Hitler.

 

Notes:

1 The following explanations are from Records created by the National War Savings Committee, later National Savings Committee and associated bodies, published by The National Archives:

The National Savings Movement was founded in the autumn of 1915 when the Committee on War Loans for Small Investors was appointed to consider means of encouraging the public to save money to help the war effort. In January 1916 the committee advocated the organisation of local voluntary savings associations and the introduction of ‘war savings deposits’, later designated ‘war savings certificates’, and now as ‘national savings certificates’.
By a Treasury minute of 8 February 1916 two committees were set up: the National Organising Committee for War Savings and the Central Advisory Committee for War Savings. In April 1916 these two committees were combined as the National War Savings Committee. The title was changed to the National Savings Committee on 29 September 1919. Separate organisations were set up for Scotland and Ireland.
The aim of the National Savings Committee was to maintain throughout England and Wales an organisation to encourage the public to save by investment in national savings securities and deposits in the National (formerly Post Office) and Trustee Savings Banks.

2 Robert Molesworth Kindersley (1871-1954), 1st Baron Kindersley, was the chairman of the National Savings Committee from 1916 to 1920, then its president until 1946.