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Posted: Wed Oct 17, 2018 10:35 pm
by Dr. Goodword

• slough •

Pronunciation: slu (US), slaw (UK) • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A swamp, marsh, or tidal flat; a shallow bog or mire, a backwater at a river inlet. 2. An emotional mire, a deep depression, despair, or moral degeneration.

Notes: Do not confuse this noun with the verb slough "to shed skin" pronounced [slêf]. The final GH was originally pronounced like German or Scottish CH, like a K, but without completely stopping the flow of air in the back of the throat. This sound then either shifted to [f] (usually after U, as in laugh) or disappeared altogether, leaving the letters GH silent, as they are in today's Good Word.

In Play: Sloughs are real and emotional mires: "When Miriam Webster got her boots mired in a slough by the creek, she arrived in such a dismal slough that she didn't make the second round of the spelling bee." It is a good word to use when morale is low, but you don't want to mention it in words others might comprehend but misunderstand: "Come on, guys! We have to pull ourselves out of this slough and put some enthusiasm into marketing the company's new solar powered flashlight."

Word History: This Good Word comes from a Proto-Indo-European root with a Fickle S, an initial S we find in some languages but not in others. It is related to Russian luzha "mud puddle" and lug "meadow" which, as you can see, lost the initial S. The Germanic languages, however, kept the S. Middle English also had a word slonk "hollow depression in the ground", which may be related. If so, it suggests that the original root may have had a Fickle N, too.

Re: Slough

Posted: Thu Oct 18, 2018 6:31 am
by David Myer
Yes, a wonderful word. Can't recall exactly where I came across the expression 'slough of despond' but I think it was used in a poem I had to learn in detention, or something. But despond is another lovely word.

Curiously, I did my undergraduate studies at a place in England called Slough. It was a classically dour, dull and miserable town. Really, a quite dreadful place. Of course there are many like it in Britain.

But I have concerns with your recommended pronunciation. In UK and Australia (where it is hardly ever used) it should not be pronounced sloo nor slaw as your column suggests.

I have always contended that a town's name should be pronounced as the locals pronounce it - I mean they should know shouldn't they? But a problem arises when the area retains a distinctive regional accent, as Slough indeed does. In England it should be pronounced as in cow, as Prince Charles might say it with a very rounded mouth. But the locals call it something like sleeoww between clenched teeth and with a very wide-stretched mouth. I'm not sure that does it justice but without wishing to be snobbish about these things, the locals there, really aren't tops in pronunciation. Anyway when any of you Americans want to use the word in England, I strongly encourage you to avoid slew (as in David slew Goliath) and slaw (as in the generally unpleasant salad concoction with cabbage, carrot and mayonnaise - do you have it in America?) It is correctly: How now brown cow in Slough, the town permanently and justifiably in a permanent slough of despond.

I just ran this comment past my son, and he said "Aren't you a pompous twit".

Re: Slough

Posted: Thu Oct 18, 2018 12:40 pm
by LukeJavan8
Can't say as I've heard of the salad concoction.
We have many canal-like trenches in the western
part of our 500 mile wide state that connect bodies
of water. They are called 'sloughs'.

Re: Slough

Posted: Fri Oct 19, 2018 3:28 am
by David Myer
Here's a recipe. Perhaps you've heard it only as coleslaw. ... e72e24afa9

Re: Slough

Posted: Sat Oct 20, 2018 12:22 pm
by LukeJavan8
Yes, and I love it.
I missed it in your entry above. Slaw is around here in many ways
and on lots of menus, with or without the 'cole' prefixing it.
Thanks for the update.

Re: Slough

Posted: Sun Oct 21, 2018 6:25 pm
by Perry Lassiter
The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the word was an essay that was in in English lit book my freshman year in college. It was an example of a student essay to show us what with the approval of faculty. I think it was entitled AHole in the Ground.

Regarding pronunciation, around here we were told to pronounce it sloo, although I have from somewhere heard sluff as in "slough it off." That equates with shake it off.

Slaw is better without the carrots, and the flavor of the mayonnaise makes a huge difference. Also how thinly the cabbage has been cut in strips.

Re: Slough

Posted: Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:46 am
by George Kovac
David Myer wrote:
I have always contended that a town's name should be pronounced as the locals pronounce it - I mean they should know shouldn't they?
Well, yes, I concur, but with major caveats:

The locals are sometimes charmingly wrong. I come from plainspeaking Chicago, where the no-nonsense Midwesterners pronounce all the letters that are served, regardless of country of origin. Thus the suburb of Des Plaines, named by early French explorers, is pronounced “dez PLAYNS”. The principal radar weather facility for the region is located in the suburb of Marseilles, Illinois, pronounced “mar SAYLZ.” And if you want the driver of the #22 bus to let you off on Goethe Street, you better say “GO thee” (pronounced like the first syllable in theology) or you’ll miss your stop. But don’t take those Chicago pronunciations with you if you study French or German in college.

The locals can be charmingly pretentious. During the Iran-Contra scandal (is anyone feeling nostalgic for the Regan era?) one of the local Chicago newscasters, who was not herself Hispanic, decided to go rogue, and, in exaggerated Spanish-ish pronounced, nay shouted, the name of the Central American country at the heart of that scandal as “NEE kuh RRRRRRRRah gwah.” The trilling was theatrical, interminable and jarring, and the scandal was in the news for years. No native speakers of English should attempt to trill when speaking English, unless you are Scottish.

We respect local pronunciation only when it’s an English speaking country. My Nicaraguan newsreader aside, we don’t pronounce local names as the locals do if the country is not English speaking. Here’s a test: Try saying the capital cities of these familiar countries as the locals pronounce them: France, Italy, Poland, Austria, Russia. Yeah, I didn't think so.

Times change, and so does pronunciation. The pronunciation of Nicaragua by the 1980s broadcaster would not seem so odd today (well, if she reduced the trilling by about 80%). Adopting more local-ish pronunciation of non-English geographical names is becoming more common in America, especially of Spanish names. When I was a kid, the US island territory was pronounced by broadcasters and civilian Anglos as “PORT oh REE koh” as if to rhyme with the mushroom “portobello”, but now it is just as common (even outside Miami, where I presently live) to hear the vowels enunciated more closely to the Spanish style.

BTW David, I fully concur with you on the pronunciation and pleasures of slaw. In Chicago, we always called it "slaw" and enjoyed it with our bratwurst. My wife grew up on the East Coast, and it was slaw to them too.

Re: Slough

Posted: Tue Oct 23, 2018 11:59 am
by Perry Lassiter
In South Louisiana there is a village named Ville Platte. One might expect it, especially being in the heart of Cajun country, to bepronounced romantically as Veal Plah. Nah. It's vill plat, rhyming with hill flat. Gross!

Re: Slough

Posted: Tue Oct 23, 2018 12:16 pm
by LukeJavan8
Hereabouts one can always tell when a TV station has employed
a new meteorologist. They always mispronounce a number of
towns nearby. The town of Beatrice in Nebraska is bee A' tris,
not bee a tris. Who knows why. St. Libory is LiBORy, not Li'bory.
Over in Iowa there is a town that is Limoni, and pronounced
li MON i, but inevitably limon-y. Why station managers don't
give instruction to these folks never ceases to baffle me.