slo • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: The blackthorn or sloe plum tree (Prunus spinosa) or its sharply sour fruit.
Notes: The sloe is similar to a small plum that is too sour to eat alone. However, jams and preserves are made from them as well as several liqueurs, such as sloe gin. This drink is known as patxaran in the Basque country of Spain, Navarre. Sloes preserved in vinegar are similar in taste to Japanese umeboshi.
In Play: Today's Good Word is not heard very often alone but is heard in expressions like sloe gin and sloe-eyed "having dark, slanted eyes". Whatever you do, don't misunderstand it: "I guess Nigel's new girlfriend misses a lot of what he says; he said that she is a sloe-eyed beauty from some tropical isle." (Not slow-eyed!) Be careful of sloe gin, too; it is really a liqueur that can debilitate you no more slowly than regular gin.
Word History: In Old English this word was sla changing to slo by Middle English. You know what it is today. The original Proto-Indo-European stem from which this word descended was sloi-/slei- with that common [o]/[e] variation not clearly understood by linguists. English inherited the [o] variation. The [e] variation went on to become sliva in Russian, šljiva in Serbo-Croatian, the word that underlies šljivovica "slivovitz, plum brandy". Czechs also have their slivovice. (Today we must thank Dr. Margie Sved for suggesting such a plum of a word for our series.)