Printable Version
Pronunciation: slæ-dhêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, transitive

Meaning: 1. To smear a large amount of a thick, wet substance onto the surface of something, as 'to slather sunscreen on his back'. 2. (Canadian) To thoroughly defeat; to castigate, as 'to slather the opposition'.

Notes: Slather is a lexical orphan with only its conjugational forms: slathered, slathers, and slathering to its credit. When we simply apply butter to toast, we spread the butter. When we spread a large amount of butter over a piece of toast, we slather the butter. We cannot say: 'spread the toast with butter', but 'to slather a piece of toast with butter' is OK.

In Play: The basic meaning of today's Good Word refers to the copious application of a thick substance: "Lionel arrived at the dance looking as though he had slathered his hair with 30 weight motor oil and run his fingers through it once." Again: "Beatrice slathers thick layers of ketchup, mustard, pickle relish on every hamburger she eats."

Word History: This word is probably a blend of slap or slop + lather; nobody knows for sure. If this speculation is accurate, lather in Old English was leaþr "foam, soap", from PIE loutro- "lather", also the source of Old Irish loathar "bathtub". This word is a derivation comprising lou(ê)-/leu(ê)- "to wash" + -tro-, an instrumental suffix. Lou(ê)- is also responsible for Greek louein "to bathe" and Latin lavere "to wash". The Latin word devolved into French laver "wash", which English borrowed as lave. We also see this word at the root of lavage and lavatory. That is it in lavish, too. Lavish was borrowed from Middle French lavasse "deluge, downpour, torrent of rain", which originated, again, in Latin lavare "to wash". (Now let's slather our gratitude on Susan Liddy-Gates, who practices law in downtown New Monia, Pennsylvania, but who had time to suggest today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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