Word Confusion: Slay vs Sleigh vs Sley

Posted March 12, 2019 by kddidit in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

I’ll confess. I’m cheating. Every once in awhile I come across slayed in text when I think it should have been slain, so y’all are my excuse for exploring slain versus slayed, er, I mean, slay vs sleigh vs sley.

I must say, it does crack me up that slay means both kill and impress. Although…I suppose it could be considered impressive that I’ve been killed… I can think of a couple of people who’d be thrilled.

Sleigh, of course, is easy enough, although the verb usage could be confusing. No one seems to actually have sleighed nor sleighs, but everyone goes sleighing. That’s not to say one can’t do either of the two.

As for sley… That one caught me by surprise. No, not that it’s a variant spelling for slay, but its use as a weaving tool. The things you learn…

Slayed versus Slain

Since this really was the whole purpose for me, it turns out that slayed is a, supposedly, less frequently used past tense form for slayslew is supposed to be the more common past tense version. From my reading, I’d have to disagree. Past tense describes an action, an event, or condition that happened in the past.

Slain is the past participle, a verb that functions as an adjective. And sometimes uses the past tense of be, i.e., was and were. They were slain. He was slain…

For a different take on slew, you may want to explore “Slew versus Slough“.

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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Slay Sleigh Sley
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: slay, sley and sleigh; Oxford Dictionaries: slay and sley and sleigh

A black-and-white photo. As his men wait for him in the background, a patrol leader from a unit of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division sorrowfully looks down at a dead Vietnamese woman.

Vietnam War 1966 – U.S. Soldier and Buddies near Slain Vietnamese Woman by Manhhai is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Flickr.

A white Norwegian Fjordhorse is pulling a portland cutter sleigh

Uphill Sleigh Ride by Pete Markham from Loretto, USA, is under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

An s-shaped hook for weaving

Glimakra Sley Hook White Plastic is with permission of The Woolery.

Part of Grammar:
Noun; Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: slays
Past tense: slew, slayed
Past participle: slain
Gerund or present participle: slaying

Variant spelling: sley

Noun 1; Verb, intransitive 2

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: sleighs
Past tense or past participle: sleighed
Gerund or present participle: sleighing

Noun; Verb, transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: sleys
Past tense or past participle: sleyed
Gerund or present participle: sleying

Variant spelling: slay, sleigh

See sley

Verb, intransitive:
To kill or murder

[Slang] To strongly impress or overwhelm someone

Verb, transitive:
[Archaic or literary] Kill a person or animal in a violent way

  • [Chiefly North American; mostly used in journalism] Murder someone
  • [Informal] Greatly impress or amuse someone
  • [Informal] Be extremely impressive, stylish, or successful

[Slang] To impress someone sexually

[Obsolete] To strike

A vehicle mounted on runners for use on ice and snow drawn by horses or reindeer, especially one used for passengers

Another name for sledge

Verb, intransitive:
[Usually functions as a gerund] To drive, travel, or ride by sleigh

A tool used in weaving to force the weft into place

The reed of a loom

The warp count in woven fabrics

[British] The lay of a loom

Verb, transitive:
To draw (warp ends) through the heddle eyes of the harness or through the dents of the reed in accordance with a given plan for weaving a fabric

See sley.

Verb, intransitive:
His whole album slays.

She slayed in a jumpsuit.

You slayed at this quiz.

Verb, transitive:
St. George slew the dragon.

In certain African tribes, one had to slay a lion to prove one’s manhood.

A man was slain with a shotgun.

When the IRA bombed Hyde Park in 1982 four members of the distinguished regiment and seven horses were slain.

You slay me, you really do.

And she’s an eccentric Aquarius, which slays me every time.

Even if he had slain the government on tax cuts, he could not have won.

This group, the godfathers of World music, slayed me in ’71 with their eponymous debut album.

Rudolph and the other reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh.

Let’s go for a sleigh ride!

Horse-drawn sleighs jingle by, carrying passengers on the occasional Sunday outing.

Finally, the bags were upstairs, the sleigh put in the barn, and the horses tended.

He concentrated on the production of winter scenes, with skaters, sleighs, tobogganers, and people playing kolf (an early form of golf), which convey a sense of delight in the picturesque aspects of Dutch leisure in the 17th century.

They climbed over an 8,000-foot pass and then skied down to Boulder Station, where they rode a horse-drawn sleigh the remaining miles to Ketchum.

Verb, intransitive:
We’re sleighing tonight.

People beyond thirty or forty years of age remember winter woollies, sliding on frozen footpaths, and weeks of sleighing on hillsides and roads.

Whereas curling, skating, and sleighing were available elsewhere, snowshoeing, and tobogganing were specifically Canadian winter sports, which had to be experienced in situ.

The sleighing was very good down in the morning but it thawed considerably yesterday, and I had quite poor sleighing for eight miles this side of Newburgh coming home.

The sley mechanism swings to and fro.

The fly shuttle oscillating sley works at a higher speed than the throw shuttle sley.

Verb, transitive:
Sley the reed to a more open sett for fewer warp threads per inch.

“More advanced weavers who use fine threads, use close setts, wind multiple threads together, make long warps or do sectional warping, should beam the warp before threading the heddles and sleying the reed” (Glimåkra).

I watched a friend as “she was sleying the reed on her loom … doing something completely different” (Laura’s Loom).

Adjective: slayable, unslayable
Noun: slayer, slaying
Noun: sleigh bed, sleigh bell, sleigher, sleighing Adjective: sleying
Verb: re-sley
History of the Word:
Old English lēan meaning strike, kill, is of Germanic origin and related to the Dutch slaan and the German schlagen.
  1. 1703, originally as a North American usage, from the Dutch slee shortened from slede meaning sledge.
  2. 1728, as a verb.
  • 1770 is the first recording of sleigh-ride.
  • 1780 is the first recording of sleigh-bell, which was originally used to give warning of the approach of a sleigh.
Old English slege meaning weaver’s reed, the Middle English sleye; akin to the Dutch slag, the German Schlag, the Old Norse slag, and the Gothic slahs meaning a blow. Related to slay.

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!

Satisfy your curiosity about other Word Confusions by exploring the index. You may also want to explore Formatting Tips, Grammar Explanations, and/or the Properly Punctuated.

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

2011 Horse and Sleigh Festival, Woodbury, Minnesota, by Pete Markham is under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, via Flickr while the resized and angled Glimakra Sley Hook White Plastic is with permission of The Woolery.

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