• sidle •
said-êl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive
Meaning: 1. To move sideways, toward the side, or up to the side of something. 2. To move in a coy, unobtrusive manner, usually while looking in another direction.
Notes: I have always associated this word with the US Southwest, but our Word History will show that this word is much older. It is a plain English verb with no fancy Latin or French suffixes. The participle sidling may be used as an adjective or noun, and once or twice someone has even written an adverb, sidlingly.
In Play: Almost any motion involving a side may be termed sidling: "Henry sidled the canoe up to the dock and held Matilda's hand as she entered the precarious vessel." It can also refer to any slow, coy pedestrian approach when we are uncertain of our reception: "Marvin sidled slyly up to the bar and slipped his hand slowly around Genevieve's waist" (where pedestrian is used in original sense of that word).
Word History: Today's Good Word is a back-formation from the adjective-adverb sideling "sideways" akin to Old English sidlingwegs, the ancestor of sideways itself. 'Back-formation' means that sideling was misinterpreted as a derivation of an underlying form sidel or, as it came to be, sidle. A variation of sideling in the mid-19th century was sidlings, which meant "side-saddle", the way women rode horseback. Men, of course, rode stradlings. Side itself is of mysterious origins. There was an adjective side which meant "long" in Old English, that remained in Scots English and Northern English dialects. In Scots a side coat is a great coat, a long coat. Whether these two words share the same source remains a question. (It is time we sidled up to Mark Bailey and thanked him for suggesting today's slightly slangy, but otherwise very Good Word.)
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