Slew

Apologies for dishing up another apparently gruesome post. The word in the title of course can be the past tense of the verb slay, but it also has another meaning and another derivation. According to the OED it means ‘a very large number of’ or ‘a very great amount of’, and was originally a U.S. colloquialism. OED’s earliest reference is from 1839 in a work about the Green Mountain Boys in what is now the state of Vermont. The word derives from Irish (and Scots Gaelic) slua or sluagh, meaning ‘a host’, ‘an army’. The word is found in the compound sluagh-gairm, meaning ‘war cry’, which eventually gave rise to the English slogan.

There are cognate words in other Celtic languages. Welsh has llu, meaning ‘a troop’. Cornish has lu, meaning ‘army’ or ‘fleet’. Breton lu means ‘army’. (Thanks to JDL for this last piece of information.)

News of my wife: Her fracture has mended well and the plaster cast has been taken off. She is now wearing a boot that looks as if it were Star Wars surplus issue. She had a trip home for the afternoon yesterday and will come again today for a few hours. We hope she will be home permanently very soon.

Photo credit: Jmhullot. Used under this licence.

7 thoughts on “Slew

  1. The last part is excellent news, John. As to “slew”, I use it the non-slaying sense frequently, but always prefixed by “a whole”, as in “came up with a whole slew of excuses”.

  2. Good news!
    At our end, we’ll be leaving Sweden soon for Cork in Ireland . Nicole is the new prof of speech and hearing and I’ll be enjoying retirement and lots of Murphys and Tullamore Dew!!

  3. I echo Philip and Martin’s sentiments about your wife’s progress.
    As for ‘slew’, it’s not a word I use a lot, but my feeling is that Philip is right in saying that as a noun it is most often preceded by ‘whole’.

  4. Sláinte, A Mhairtin!

    Congratulations on your retirement and congratulations to Nicole on her appointment. I hope you are both well, and the cats too of course.

    Thank you Philip and Graham. My wife is now home!

  5. I’m happy that your wife is now home, John.
    About “slew”: Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (5th ed. 1995) includes the example “a whole slew of problems”, and the current online version gives “This year has seen a whole slew of novels set in Hong Kong”.

  6. For me I think there’s often semantic contamination from ‘slew’ meaning to move over sideways.
    So, when there’s a whole slew of things, I see them sliding away in my mind’s eye!!

  7. Peter Bowes (BBC correspondent on the west coast of the USA), reported on the Emmys this morning for the Today programme, and said “The epic fantasy series [i.e. Game of Thrones] won a slew of awards” (listen at 2 hours, 8 minutes 10 seconds). No “whole”!

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