• sleigh •
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb
Meaning: 1. [Noun] A light carriage on narrow runners pulled by dogs, horses, or in very northern climes, reindeer. 2. [Verb] To ride in a sleigh.
Notes: English has several words for vehicles that slide across snow or ice. A sled is usually a small toy for sliding down hills, though a bobsled can accommodate four or more people. A sledge is a work sleigh, heavily built, pulled by horses or oxen over the snow or over snowless ground. The sleigh is a light, festive vehicle that we associate with happy times around Christmas.
In Play: We are approaching that time of the year when a most famous "miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer" will sail across the rooftops of our children's imaginations, "with a little old driver, so lively and quick, [they will all know] in a moment it must be St. Nick." For a showroom of sleighs built in the United States, click here.
Word History: The reason sled and sleigh are so similar is that they come from the same source. This good holiday word is another one that English borrowed twice from the same language: Dutch slede, slee "sleigh", only we assigned the two words different meanings. All the Germanic languages have very similar words meaning either "sleigh" or "sled": Norwegian slede, Swedish släde, Danish slęde, German Schlitten. They are all remindful of English slide, which is where they all come from—the local word for "slide". The spelling? If we borrowed this word from Dutch slee, why to we spell it sleigh? It has been spelled slay and sley in the past, but English speakers love letters that are no more than decorative curlicues, and what better place for decorative curlicues than on the word for sleighs?
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