Quagmire is a compound onomatopoeic word comprising quag, marshy land that quakes and trembles when walked upon, and mire, an impassable swamp or morass. Related meanings for quag are soft and fleshy; for mire they are mucky, muddy, slimy, oozy, sloppy, and slushy. A quagmire can describe any bog or wetland, but it primarily refers to one that shakes and moves under weight. Among the earliest uses of quagmire is the one most common still: a predicament or situation from which it is difficult to extricate oneself. When the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Soviets quickly found they were stuck in a quagmire, albeit an arid or semiarid one. Similarly, the rice paddies and swamps of the Mekong Delta of Vietnam trapped first the French and then the U.S. armies for three decades in its quagmires. Quagmires are common features of the marshy ground along the banks of the creeks and rivers that thread through the low land of the Chesapeake Bay.

Michael Collier