Word Confusion: Slew versus Slough

Posted April 14, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 21 February 2018

I’ve been running into a slew of slews and find myself falling into a slough. Mostly because I’ve learned that slough has some alternative spellings…dang it. I wanted to be all self-righteous about writers improperly using slough for slew, and I can’t. I hate that.

I can take heart, though, that slough is the more common choice for swamps and mucky depressions. I know I feel better about sloughing that dead skin off my feet instead of slewing it…slew the skin off my face just doesn’t feel right.

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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Slew Slough
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Stack Exchange; Merriam-Webster: Slew; Slough

“Ault Festival Races” courtesy of Greeley-Tribune.

Dan Dill slews around the corner in the Outlaw class lawnmower races.

Photo by Jan Kronsell, 2004, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a slough, the Kenta Canal, at Barataria Preserve, Louisiana.

Part of Grammar:
Past tense for slay 2

Noun 1 and 2
Verb 1 and 3, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: slews
Past participle: slain
Gerund or present participle: slaying

Alternative spelling: slue

Noun 4 and 5
Verb 5, intransitive & transitive

Alternative spellings: slew, slue, sluff

A violent or uncontrollable sliding movement 1

[Informal] A large number or quantity of something 2

Verb, intransitive:
Turn or slide violently or uncontrollably in a particular direction 1

  • [Of an electronic device] …undergo slewing

Verb, transitive:
Turn or slide violently or uncontrollably in a particular direction 1

Kill (a person or animal) in a violent way 3

  • [Chiefly North American; Journalism] Murder (someone)
  • [Informal] Greatly impress or amuse (someone)
A place of deep mud or mire 4

  • A swamp
  • A creek in a marsh or tide flat
  • Backwater
  • An inlet on a river

A situation characterized by lack of progress or activity

Something that may be shed or cast off 5

A mass of dead tissue separating from an ulcer

A state of moral degradation or spiritual dejection

Verb, intransitive:
[Usually slough something off] Shed or remove (a layer of dead skin)

  • [Slough off; of dead skin] Drop off
  • Be shed
  • To separate in the form of dead tissue from living tissue
  • [Slough away/down; of soil or rock] Collapse or slide into a hole or depression
  • Cast off one’s skin

Crumble slowly and fall away

To plod through or as if through mud

Verb, transitive:
[Usually slough something off] Shed or remove (a layer of dead skin)

  • To cast off

Engulf in a slough

To get rid of or discard as irksome, objectionable, or disadvantageous (usually used with off)

  • Dispose of a losing card in bridge by discarding
The phrase is a slew of.

I was assaulted by the thump and slew of the van.

He asked me a slew of questions.

Verb, intransitive:
The Chevy slewed from side to side in the snow.

“The telescope slewed to the coordinates as soon as it received the alert and within seven minutes of the start of the burst, it began observations” (myefe.com).

Verb, transitive:
He managed to slew the aircraft around before it settled on the runway.

St. George slew the dragon.

A man was slain with a shotgun.

You slay me, you really do.

Those from Beaver Creek were taken in a slough which has no connection with the main stream during low water.

The economic slough of the interwar years have been difficult on many people.

The drugs can cause blistering and slough.

Verb, intransitive:
He had to slough on that trick.

One hand can ruff while the other hand sloughs a loser.

Verb, transitive:
A snake sloughs off its old skin.

Exfoliate once a week to slough off any dry skin.

He is concerned to slough off the country’s bad environmental image.

Adjective: slayable, unslayable
Noun: slayer, sley,
Adjective: sloughy
History of the Word:
1 Mid-18th century and originally in nautical use, althought it is of unknown origin.

2 Mid-19th century from the Irish sluagh.

3 Old English slēan meaning strike, kill is of Germanic origin and related to the Dutch slaan and German schlagen.

First known use: before 12th century

4 Old English slōh, slō(g), of unknown origin.

5 Middle English (as a noun denoting a skin, especially the outer skin shed by a snake).

Perhaps related to Low German slu(we) meaning husk, peel.

The verb dates from the early 18th century.

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:

“Slough: Redwood City” is Stickpen ‘s own work which he has placed in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. I took some drastic Photoshop liberties with it, slewing it right ’round on itself.

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