Printable Version
Pronunciation: slê-vên-li Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, adverb

Meaning: 1. Messy, unkempt, dirty, sloppy . 2. Careless, slipshod, sloppy, as 'slovenly writing style'.

Notes: This adjective seems to be based on the noun, sloven, which still refers to a lout, rogue, a dirty, untidy person of disreputable character. Slovenly serves as an adverb, as do most adjectives ending with the suffix -ly, as 'to dress slovenly'. It comes with a noun, slovenliness; look out for the shift of Y to I before -ness.

In Play: In the literal sense today's Good Word may be used thus: "Maude Lynn Dresser is a slovenly housekeeper who doesn't know what a dust cloth or vacuum cleaner is." It is frequently used figuratively, though: "The president has surrounded himself with a coterie of slovenly thinkers."

Word History: This word probably originates in some Germanic source, compare Middle Flemish sloovin "a scold" and sloef "untidy, shabby", Dutch sloffen "to shuffle, dodder", and Middle Low German sloven "to put on clothes carelessly". These words come from PIE sleubh- "to slide, slip". In fact, English slip and slop, whence sloppy, come from the same source. The English name of the ship, sloop, was borrowed from the Dutch slupen "to glide", which is what the Dutch made of the same original PIE word. Latin made lubricus "slippery" from the same root without the Fickle S. Another interpretation is that it began as a racial slur, based on Slovene, like slave, which undoubtedly comes from Slav, reflecting the Western European centuries old prejudice against Central Europeans. (Today's Good Word comes from David Myer's very, very unslovenly vocabulary.)

Dr. Goodword,

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