Printable Version
Pronunciation: slayk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To quench, to satisfy a thirst for, as to slake a thirst or desire. 2. To reduce or moderate, to relax or slacken, as a pill to slake a pain.

Notes: Although this word has been in circulation for centuries in a host of meanings, its family is not very large. The active adjective is the participle, slaking, though there is a passive adjective slakable carried by few dictionaries because of its rarity. This word today is heard almost exclusively in the phrase 'to slake one's thirst' though it has far more interesting uses. Let's use it before we lose it.

In Play: Anything you can thirst for, may (or may not) be slaked: "One night camping could not slake Marilyn's desire for the outdoors; she bought a complete camping outfit and began planning her summer around it." From this sense, the meaning of slake easily moves to the reduction of the intensity of anything: "Robin Hood tried to slake the roaring campfire with the remainder of the grog in his mug, but the alcoholic beverage had the opposite effect."

Word History: Today's Good Word descended to us from Old English slacian, a verb built on slc "slack, sluggish". It is hence a close relative of slack. The original Proto-Indo-European root was a rarity exhibiting both a Fickle S and a Fickle N. The initial S appears in derivations in some languages but not others. English slack is based on the same root as Latin laxus (lak-sus) "loose, slack" (whence English lax) and Russian legkiy "light". The same root also produced Latin languere "to be languid", with an N that did not make it to English slack or slake. (We would not wish William Blaisdell to languish for lack of gratitude for submitting today's Good Word—which should help slake our desire for knowledge of the English vocabulary.)

Dr. Goodword,

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