- slattern (n.)
- 1630s, "a woman negligent or disordered in her dress or household," of uncertain origin, probably related to Low German Slattje, Dutch slodder, dialectal Swedish slata "slut" (in the older, non-sexual sense; compare slut). Compare dialectal English verb slatter "to spill or splash awkwardly, to waste," used of women or girls considered untidy or slovenly.
- slatternly (adj.)
- 1670s, from slattern + -ly (1).
- slaughter (n.)
- c.1300, "killing of a cattle or sheep for food, killing of a person," from a Scandinavian *slahtr, akin to Old Norse slatr "a butchering, butcher meat," slatra "to slaughter," slattr "a mowing" from Proto-Germanic *slukhtis, related to Old Norse sla "to strike" (see slay (v.)) + formative suffix (as in laugh/laughter). Meaning "killing of a large number of persons in battle" is attested from mid-14c. Old English had slieht "stroke, slaughter, murder, death; animals for slaughter;" as in sliehtswyn "pig for killing."
- slaughter (v.)
- 1530s, "butcher an animal for market," from slaughter (n.). Meaning "slay wantonly, ruthlessly, or in great numbers" is from 1580s. Related: Slaughtered; slaughtering.
- slaughterhouse (n.)
- also slaughter-house, late 14c., "place where animals are butchered for market," from slaughter (n.) + house (n.). The Slaughter-house cases in U.S. history were 1873.
- Slav (n.)
- late 14c., Sclave, from Medieval Latin Sclavus (c.800), from Byzantine Greek Sklabos (c.580), from Old Church Slavonic Sloveninu "a Slav," probably related to slovo "word, speech," which suggests the name originally identified a member of a speech community (compare Old Church Slavonic Nemici "Germans," related to nemu "dumb;" and Old English þeode, which meant both "race" and "language").
Identical with the -slav in personal names (such as Russian Miroslav, literally "peaceful fame;" Mstislav "vengeful fame;" Jaroslav "famed for fury;" Czech Bohuslav "God's glory;" and see Wenceslas). Spelled Slave c.1788-1866, influenced by French and German Slave. As an adjective from 1876.
- slave (n.)
- late 13c., "person who is the chattel or property of another," from Old French esclave (13c.), from Medieval Latin Sclavus "slave" (source also of Italian schiavo, French esclave, Spanish esclavo), originally "Slav" (see Slav); so used in this secondary sense because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.
This sense development arose in the consequence of the wars waged by Otto the Great and his successors against the Slavs, a great number of whom they took captive and sold into slavery. [Klein]
Meaning "one who has lost the power of resistance to some habit or vice" is from 1550s. Applied to devices from 1904, especially those which are controlled by others (compare slave jib in sailing, similarly of locomotives, flash bulbs, amplifiers). Slave-driver is attested from 1807; extended sense of "cruel or exacting task-master" is by 1854. Slate state in U.S. history is from 1812. Slave-trade is attested from 1734.
Old English Wealh "Briton" also began to be used in the sense of "serf, slave" c.850; and Sanskrit dasa-, which can mean "slave," apparently is connected to dasyu- "pre-Aryan inhabitant of India." Grose's dictionary (1785) has under Negroe "A black-a-moor; figuratively used for a slave," without regard to race. More common Old English words for slave were þeow (related to þeowian "to serve") and þræl (see thrall). The Slavic words for "slave" (Russian rab, Serbo-Croatian rob, Old Church Slavonic rabu) are from Old Slavic *orbu, from the PIE root *orbh- (also source of orphan), the ground sense of which seems to be "thing that changes allegiance" (in the case of the slave, from himself to his master). The Slavic word is also the source of robot.
- slave (v.)
- 1550s, "to enslave," from slave (n.). The meaning "work like a slave" is first recorded 1719. Related: Slaved; slaving.
- Indian tribe of northwestern Canada, 1789, from slave (n.), translating Cree (Algonquian) awahkan "captive, slave."
- slaver (v.)
- "dribble from the mouth," early 14c., from Old Norse slafra "to slaver," probably imitative (compare slobber (v.)). Related: Slavered; slavering. The noun is from early 14c.
- slaver (n.)
- "ship in the slave trade," 1830, agent noun from slave (v.). Meaning "person in the slave trade" is from 1842.
- slavery (n.)
- 1550s, "severe toil, hard work, drudgery;" from slave (v.) + -ery. Meaning "state of servitude" is from 1570s; meaning "keeping or holding of slaves" is from 1728.
- Slavic (adj.)
- 1813; see Slav + -ic. Earlier in same sense was Slavonic (1640s), from Slavonia, a region of Croatia; Slavonian (1570s). As a noun in reference to a language group from 1812.
- slavish (adj.)
- 1560s, from slave (n.) + -ish. Sense of "servilely imitative, lacking originality or independence" is from 1753. Related: Slavishly; slavishness.
- slavocracy (n.)
- also slaveocracy, in U.S. history, "the political dominance of slave-owners," 1840, formed irregularly from slave (n.) + -cracy. Related: Slavocrat.
- slaw (n.)
- "sliced cabbage," 1794, from Dutch sla, short for salade, from French salade (see salad).
- slay (v.)
- Old English slean "to smite, strike, beat," also "to kill with a weapon, slaughter" (class VI strong verb; past tense sloh, slog, past participle slagen), from Proto-Germanic *slahan, from root *slog- "to hit" (cognates: Old Norse and Old Frisian sla, Danish slaa, Middle Dutch slaen, Dutch slaan, Old High German slahan, German schlagen, Gothic slahan "to strike"). The Germanic words are from PIE root *slak- "to strike" (cognates: Middle Irish past participle slactha "struck," slacc "sword").
Modern German cognate schlagen maintains the original sense of "to strike." Meaning "overwhelm with delight" (mid-14c.) preserves one of the wide range of meanings the word once had, including, in Old English, "stamp (coins); forge (weapons); throw, cast; pitch (a tent), to sting (of a snake); to dash, rush, come quickly; play (the harp); gain by conquest."
- slay (n.)
- "instrument on a weaver's loom to beat up the weft," Old English slæ, slea, slahae, from root meaning "strike" (see slay (v.)), so called from "striking" the web together. Hence the surname Slaymaker "maker of slays."
- slayer (n.)
- late 14c., agent noun from slay (v.). The Old English agent noun was slaga "slayer, killer."
- sleave (v.)
- "to separate or divide" (threads, strands, fibers), Old English -slæfan, from stem of -slifan "to separate, split, cleave," from Proto-Germanic *slifanan, perhaps related to the root of slip (v.). Compare German Schleife "a loop, knot, noose." Related: Sleaved; sleaving. As a noun, "knotted, tangled silk or thread," 1590s, from the verb; this is the word in Shakespeare's rauel'd Sleeue of Care ("Macbeth").
- sleaze (n.)
- "condition of squalor," by 1967, back-formation from sleazy. Meaning "person of low moral standards," and the adjectival use, are attested from 1976.
- sleazy (adj.)
- 1640s, "downy, fuzzy," later "flimsy, unsubstantial" (1660s), of unknown origin; one theory is that it is a corruption of Silesia, the German region, where thin linen or cotton fabric was made for export. Silesia in reference to cloth is attested in English from 1670s; and sleazy as an abbreviated form is attested from 1670), but OED is against this. Sense of "sordid" is from 1941. Related: Sleazily; sleaziness.
A day is a more magnificent cloth than any muslin, the mechanism that makes it is infinitely cunninger, and you shall not conceal the sleazy, fraudulent, rotten hours you have slipped into the piece, nor fear that any honest thread, or straighter steel, or more inflexible shaft, will not testify in the web. [Emerson, "The Conduct of Life," 1860]
- sled (n.)
- early 14c., "a dragged vehicle used for transport of heavy goods," from Middle Dutch sledde "sled," from Proto-Germanic *slid- (cognates: Old Saxon slido, Old Norse sleði, Danish slæde, Swedish släde, Old High German slito, German Schlitten "sledge"), from the same root as Old English slidan (see slide (v.)). Not found in Old English. In reference to a sleigh used for travel or recreation, it is attested from 1580s, now mainly American English.
- sled (v.)
- "transport on a sled," 1718; "ride on a sled," 1780, from sled (n.). Related: Sledded; sledding.
- sledge (n.1)
- "heavy hammer," Old English slecg "hammer, mallet," from Proto-Germanic *slagjo- (cognates: Old Norse sleggja, Middle Swedish sleggia "sledgehammer"), related to slege "beating, blow, stroke" and slean "to strike" (see slay (v.)). Sledgehammer is pleonastic.
- sledge (n.2)
- "sleigh," 1610s, from dialectal Dutch sleedse, variant of slede (see sled (n.)); said by OED to be perhaps of Frisian origin.
- sledgehammer (n.)
- late 15c., from sledge (n.1) + hammer (n.). As a verb, from 1834. Old English had slegebytel "hammer," from beetle (n.2).
- sleek (adj.)
- 1580s, variant of Middle English slike (see slick (adj.)). Originally of healthy-looking animal hair; applied to persons 1630s, with sense of "plump and smooth-skinned." Figurative meaning "slick, fawning, flattering" is from 1590s.
- sleek (v.)
- "make sleek," mid-15c., a variant of slick (v.). Related: Sleeked; sleeking.
- sleep (v.)
- Old English slæpan "to be or fall asleep; be dormant or inactive" (class VII strong verb; past tense slep, past participle slæpen), from Proto-Germanic *slepan (cognates: Old Saxon slapan, Old Frisian slepa, Middle Dutch slapen, Dutch slapen, Old High German slafen, German schlafen, Gothic slepan "to sleep"), from PIE root *sleb- "to be weak, sleep" (cognates: Old Church Slavonic slabu "lax, weak," Lithuanian silpnas "weak"), which perhaps is connected to the root of slack (adj.). Sleep with "do the sex act with" is in Old English:
Gif hwa fæmnan beswice unbeweddode, and hire mid slæpe ... [Laws of King Alfred, c.900]
Related: Slept; sleeping. Sleep around first attested 1928.
- sleep (n.)
- Old English slæp "sleep, sleepiness, inactivity," from Proto-Germanic *slepaz, from the root of sleep (v.); compare cognate Old Saxon slap, Old Frisian slep, Middle Dutch slæp, Dutch slaap, Old High German slaf, German Schlaf, Gothic sleps.
Personified in English from late 14c., on model of Latin Somnus), Greek Hypnos. Figurative use for "repose of death" was in Old English; to put (an animal) to sleep "kill painlessly" is recorded from 1923 (a similar imagery is in cemetery). Sleep deprivation attested from 1906. Sleep-walker "somnambulist" is attested from 1747; sleep-walking is from 1840. To be able to do something in (one's) sleep "easily" is recorded from 1953.
- sleep-over (n.)
- 1935, from verbal phrase; see sleep (v.) + over (adv.).
- sleeper (n.)
- Old English slæpere "one who sleeps, one who is inclined to sleep much," agent noun from sleep (v.). Meaning "strong horizontal beam" is from c.1600. Meaning "dormant or inoperative thing" is from 1620s. Meaning "railroad sleeping car" is from 1875. Sense of "something whose importance proves to be greater than expected" first attested 1892, originally in American English sports jargon, probably from earlier (1856) gambling slang sense of "unexpected winning card." Meaning "spy, enemy agent, terrorist etc. who remains undercover for a long time before attempting his purpose" first attested 1955, originally in reference to communist agents in the West.
- sleeping (adj.)
- c.1300, past participle adjective from sleep (v.). Sleeping-pill is from 1660s; sleeping-bag is from 1850; sleeping sickness as a specific African tropical disease is first recorded 1875; sleeping has been used since late 14c. for diseases marked by morbid conditions. Sleeping Beauty (1729) is Perrault's La belle au bois dormant.
It is ill wakyng of a sleapyng dogge. [Heywood, 1562]
It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake. [Chaucer, c.1385]
- sleepless (adj.)
- early 15c., from sleep (n.) + -less. Old English had slæpleas but the modern word seems to be a re-formation. Similar formation in German schlaflos, Dutch slapeloos. Related: Sleeplessly; sleeplessness.
- sleepy (adj.)
- early 13c. from sleep (n.) + -y (2). Perhaps in Old English but not recorded. Old English had slæpor, slæpwerig in the sense "sleepy;" slæpnes "sleepiness." Similar formation in Old High German slafag. Of places, from 1851 (Irving's Sleepy Hollow is from 1820). Sleepy-head is from 1570s. Related: Sleepily; sleepiness.
- sleet (n.)
- c.1300, slete, either from an unrecorded Old English *slete, *slyte, related to Middle High German sloz, Middle Low German sloten (plural) "hail," from Proto-Germanic *slautjan- (cognates: dialectal Norwegian slutr, Danish slud, Swedish sloud "sleet"), from root *slaut-.
- sleet (v.)
- early 14c., from sleet (n.). Related: Sleeted; sleeting.
- sleeve (n.)
- Old English sliefe (West Saxon), slefe (Mercian) "arm-covering part of a garment," probably literally "that into which the arm slips," from Proto-Germanic *slaubjon (cognates: Middle Low German sloven "to dress carelessly," Old High German sloufen "to put on or off"). Related to Old English slefan, sliefan "to slip on (clothes)" and slupan "to slip, glide," from PIE root *sleubh- "to slide, slip."
Compare slipper, Old English slefescoh "slipper," slip (n.2) "woman's garment," and expression slip into "dress in." Mechanical sense is attested from 1864. To have something up one's sleeve is recorded from c.1500 (large sleeves formerly doubled as pockets). Meaning "the English Channel" translates French La Manche.
- sleeveless (adj.)
- Old English sliefleas, slyflease; see sleeve (n.) + -less.
- sleigh (n.)
- "vehicle mounted on runners for use on ice and snow," 1703, American and Canadian English, from Dutch slee, shortened from slede (see sled (n.)). As a verb from 1728. Related: Sleighing. Sleigh-ride is first recorded 1770; sleigh-bells is from c.1780; they originally were used to give warning of the approach of a sleigh.
- sleight (n.)
- "cunning," early 14c. alteration of sleahthe (c.1200), from Old Norse sloegð "cleverness, cunning, slyness," from sloegr (see sly). Meaning "skill, cleverness, dexterity" is from late 14c. Meaning "feat or trick requiring quickness and nimbleness of the hands" is from 1590s. Term sleight of hand is attested from c.1400.
- slender (adj.)
- c.1400, earlier sclendre (late 14c.), probably from a French source, often said to be from Old French esclendre "thin, slender," which could be from Old Dutch slinder, but the connections, and even the existence of these words, is doubtful. Related: Slenderly; slenderness.
- slenderize (v.)
- 1921, from slender + -ize. Related: Slenderized; slenderizing. As a verb, slender "make narrower" is from 1590s.
- past tense and past participle of sleep (v.).
- sleuth (n.)
- c.1200, "track or trail of a person," from Old Norse sloð "trail," of uncertain origin. Meaning "detective" is 1872, shortening of sleuth-hound "keen investigator" (1849), a figurative use of a word that dates back to late 14c. meaning a kind of bloodhound. The verb (intransitive) meaning "to act as a detective, investigate" is recorded from 1905. Related: Sleuthed; sleuthing.
- slew (n.1)
- "swampy place," 1708, North American variant of slough.
- slew (v.)
- "to turn, swing, twist," 1834, earlier slue (1769), a nautical word, of unknown origin. Slewed (1801) is old nautical slang for "drunk." Slew-foot "clumsy person who walks with feet turned out" is from 1896.
- slew (n.2)
- "large number," 1839, from Irish sluagh "a host, crowd, multitude," from Celtic and Balto-Slavic *sloug- "help, service" (see slogan).
- slice (n.)
- c.1300, "a fragment," from Old French escliz "splinter, fragment" (Modern French éclisse), a back-formation from esclicier "to splinter, shatter, smash," from Frankish *slitan "to split" or some other Germanic source (compare Old High German slihhan; see slit (v.)). Meaning "piece cut from something" emerged early 15c. Meaning "a slicing stroke" (in golf, tennis) is recorded from 1886. Slice of life (1895) translates French tranche de la vie, a term from French Naturalist literature.