• sleuth •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A detective. 2. A tracking dog.
Notes: This word has little family. The word sleuth-hound referring to a tracking dog is still around and still used figuratively to refer to a detective. The word itself may be used as an intransitive verb, as we might sleuth around looking for something. This allows for a noun, sleuthing, but not much more.
In Play: A sleuth may be a detective on the police force or a private eye (from private i[nvestigator]): "Sturgis hired a sleuth by the name of Jason Sanborn to track down his runaway purebred bloodhound." However, anyone who does any kind of detective work qualifies for this title: "Dr. Goodword says that etymologists are word sleuths who track down the histories of words."
Word History: Sleuth is a reduction (clipping) of sleuthhound "tracking dog", another lexical gift of the Vikings during their persistent visits to the English coast from the 9th to the 11th centuries. It was originally something like slóðhund, from slóð "trail, track" + hund "dog". The English converted this word to slothhound (hund and hound share the same source), while the Scots made sloth, sleuth. We find words sharing the same origin in the Slavic languages, too. Russian sled "trail, track" underlies sledovat' "to follow". Similar words are found in other Slavic languages. (We owe a word of gratitude to Jackie Strauss, a top-notch word sleuth, for tracking down today's Good Word.)
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