• sully •
sê-lee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To soil, dirty, make grimy. 2. To disgrace, tarnish, defile as 'to sully a reputation'.
Notes: No, today's Good Word has nothing to do with the remarkable Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed a damaged airliner in the Hudson River without the loss of a single life in 2009. It is a verb with the meanings above. Although borrowed originally from French, this word has become completely Anglicized, so has only English derivations: sullying is the adjective and noun. Remember to replace the Y with an I before E: sullies and sullied.
In Play: What we most often think is sullied are reputations: "Phil Anders's reputation in neurosurgery was sullied by his many affairs with patients." Not only the reputations of individuals, but large organizations, as well: "The scandal of the Samsung Note bursting into fire sullied the company's reputation of producing top quality mobile phones."
Word History: Today we offer two histories for the price of one (and a very reasonable price, at that). The first guess of etymologists is that the word originates in French souiller "to dirty", from Vulgar Latin suculare, a derivate of Late Latin suculus "little pig", the diminutive of Latin sus "pig". This word came through English's Germanic ancestors as sow. The initial S became H in Greek to produce hus "swine". Souiller was also borrowed from French to become English soil. Other etymologists think today's Good Word comes from the Old French noun souil "the wallow of a wild boar, a bathtub" from Latin solium, "seat, bathtub". Latin solium is believed to be an variant of sodium, an unverified derivation from Proto-Indo-European sed-/sod- "to sit", origin of English sit and set.