Friday, January 13, 2012

A Slew of Slews

A certain dictionary includes four separate entries for the word slew. Two of the entries say that slew is an alternate spelling of slough (a bog or marsh) or of slue (to turn something on a fixed point). So feel free to use slew instead of slough or slue — but only if you want to piss off a copy editor.

Arthur Rackham (1917). "How Mordred was S...
Image via Wikipedia
Slew is also, of course, the past tense of slay, and what a great confluence of sound and meaning that is. Slew has a suctiony sound, like the sucking noise you might hear on a Medieval battlefield as you extract a battle axe you sank into the stomach of a now pulseless foe, opening a sluice that sends forth a slurry of gooey juices and severed viscera that soaks into the soil.

Slew is more fun to say while inhaling.

But what drew me to slew today wasn't this grisly battlefield scene, but the fact that I had used slew to mean "a great number," as in, "There are a slew of zombies roaming the mall." I've used slew in this capacity for years, but only today did I wonder where this usage came from. So I looked it up.

This type of slew comes from the Irish word sluagh, meaning "a host" — as in "a lot," "a great number," and not as in the person who invites you into his home, tosses your coat into the master bedroom, serves you six strawberry daiquiris, and then acts surprised and shocked when you drunkenly spill some of that sixth daiquiri onto his white carpet.

That's a different kind of host altogether, though he does have a host of problems to deal with. One of whom is probably his wife.

Evil scientist Sue Lecher, in her secret lab beneath the streets of Chicago, created a quick-cloning machine and, in Pinky-and-the-Brain-like fashion, decided to create an army of Sue clones to take over the world.

Fortunately, our hero, Lou Whitesmile, caught wind of Sue's plot and sought out her subterranean lair. He disabled Sue's cloning machine, but not before she had created two dozen angry copies of herself, which she unleashed on Lou.

But Lou did not venture into the labyrinthine tunnels beneath Chicago unprepared. Armed with his trusty HistoryMate® Eighteenth-Century Samurai Sword Authentic Reproduction, his well-worn Alpha Tau Omega cricket bat, and a tin of expired anchovies, Lou slew a slew of Sues in the sewer.

(cue rimshot)
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