What is the meaning of “squiggles out” in the poem “What Is Red" by Mary O' Neill?


Red squiggles out

when you cut your hand.

Red is a brick

and the sound of a band.

From the Oxfard Language Dictionary, squiggles means

  1. a short line that curls and loops in an irregular way.
  2. (North America) wriggle; squirm.

But I don’t understand the meaning of “squiggles out” in the poem? And I am also a little bit confused with the word “out”. Why add the word “out” after “squiggles” ? Is “squiggles out” a phrasal verb?

What did the author of the poem want to describe for that part ? I think that “squiggles out” is a metaphor. Can anyone explain to me?

  • Blood (this seems more suited to Literature SE).
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 4 at 10:09
  • @StuartF Thanks for your suggestions. I think I will not migrate this question this site but next time I will ask this type of questions at Literature SE instead of this site. Commented Mar 4 at 14:34
  • I would say no, in this case I wouldn't lump "squiggles out" together as a phrasal; "out" is just a preposition here. You could replace "squiggles" with other verbs and keep "out" and the structure would be the same: drips out, flows out, etc. (Compared to: "runs out" could have a phrasal meaning "be used up" which would change the meaning here.) Commented Mar 4 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


I also think it is a metaphor. In case you didn't know these are squiggles squiggles
so your blood doesn't run out straight from a cut it "squiggles" around finding the best route.

  • I'm not sure it qualifies as a true metaphor, just an unusual word choice. "Squiggle" is more often used as a noun than a verb, but the OP's dictionary entry shows that a verb form is possible. It's a word choice that summons a mental image, and the most common context for the word is writing or drawing, but I don't know that we can say the the poem is explicitly likening a wound to a drawn design. Commented Mar 4 at 15:50
  • Though reading the rest of the poem, this is almost the only line that isn't a metaphor! Commented Mar 4 at 15:53
  • @AndyBonner Oh, it is not a metaphor. Commented Mar 4 at 16:05
  • 1
    Using it as a verb is great in this poem. The whole point is to find a different way to say something rather the blood did not spurt out or ooze out. Those would be clichés. It came out in irregular lines. squiggle out: came out in a lessened, irregular manner. +1.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 4 at 16:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .