Word Confusion: Slack versus Slake

Posted January 9, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 11 October 2017

I ran across this word confusion in a pair of books I was reading in an erotic series, and it really broke the mood. When I read let the woman slack his need or the queen allowed his need to be slacked by one of his guards, well, not taut or held tightly in position or a spell of inactivity or laziness is so not what I had thought they were doing…

I really like this series. It’s well-written with tension and drama in a twist, and the series is tainted by this one stupid word. One that someone missed, misused?

Now, if the queen had allowed his need to be slaked… Well, I could either assume, ahem, that someone gave him some bottled water to drink or they were doin’ the nasty, and he’d achieved blast-off, ahem, so to speak. But slack, I dunno, sounds limp to me.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Slack Slake
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: slake

“Cambridge Slackers” by Steffen A. Frost is under the GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 licenses, via Wikimedia Commons

Tightrope walking requires a slack rope.

“Thirsty Man” courtesy of Rap Genius

ScHoolboy Q – “My Hatin’ Joint Lyrics”.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective 1; Adverb 1; Noun 1, 2; Plural Noun;
Verb, intransitive & transitive 1

Plural noun and third person present verb: slacks
Past tense or past participle: slacked
Gerund or present participle: slacking

Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: slakes
Past tense or past participle: slaked
Gerund or present participle: slaking

Not taut or held tightly in position


[Of business] Characterized by a lack of work or activity

  • Quiet
  • Slow or sluggish
  • Having or showing laziness or negligence

[Of a tide] Neither ebbing nor flowing


The part of a rope or line that is not held taut

The loose or unused part

[Informal] A spell of inactivity or laziness

Coal dust or small pieces of coal 2

Plural Noun:
Casual trousers

Verb, intransitive:
Loosen something, especially a rope

  • [Slack off] Decrease in quantity or intensity
  • [Informal] Work slowly or lazily
  • [Slack up] Slow down

Verb, transitive:
Loosen something, especially a rope

  • Reduce the intensity or speed of something

Slake lime

Verb, intransitive:
[Of lime] To become slaked

[Archaic] To become less active, intense, vigorous

Verb, transitive:
Quench or satisfy one’s thirst

  • [Figurative] Satisfy desires

[Poetic] To cool or refresh

[Archaic] To make less active, vigorous or intense

Combine quicklime with water to produce calcium hydroxide

[Obsolete] To make loose or less tense

  • Slacken
I looked out at a slack rope.

Her mouth went slack.

Business was rather slack.

They were working at a slack pace.

Slack accounting procedures can send any business into a downward spiral.

Soon the water will become slack, and the tide will turn.

Their heads were hanging slack in attitudes of despair.

I picked up the rod and wound in the slack.

He slept deeply, refreshed by a little slack in the daily routine.

Plural Noun:
He wore slacks and a windbreaker.

Just let me get my slacks on, and I’ll be down.

Verb, intransitive:
The flow of blood slacked off.

She reprimanded her girls if they were slacking.

The animal doesn’t slack up until he reaches the trees.

Verb, transitive:
The horse slacked his pace.

Verb, intransitive:
He has become quite slake.

Verb, transitive:
We’ll need to slake that.

Slake your thirst with some lemonade.

Restaurants worked to slake the Italian obsession with food.

Let the woman slake his need.

Adverb: slackily
Noun: slacker, slackness
Adjective: slakable, slakeable, slakeless, unslakable, unslakeable, unslaked
Noun: slaker
History of the Word:
1 Old English slæc, meaning inclined to be lazy, unhurried, is of Germanic origin and related to the Latin laxus, meaning loose.

2 Late Middle English and probably from Low German or Dutch.

Old English slacian, meaning become less eager can also be written as slacken, from the adjective slæc or slack. Compare it with the Dutch slaken, meaning diminish, relax.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

Sly and Tony Ward “Dead Drunks” in BLab by Arno roca’ s eyes is under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.