“Sleazy” and “slazy”

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“Sleezy” is given in both the OED and Merriam-Webster as an alternate spelling of sleazy, but the only standard pronunciation of sleazy is /slē’zē/, with a long e.

NOTE: the pronunciation [slā’zē] can be found in dialect. It can also be documented in the works of American writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Presently, however, the long e pronunciation is the standard on both sides of the Atlantic.

Since I’d never heard sleazy pronounced “slazy,” I snapped to attention when I heard a character on a television program say that something done by another character was “slazy.” The other character repeated the word as “slazy.” Unfortunately, I have no way to double check, but it seemed to me that the context called for sleazy in its sense of “filthy, sordid, depraved.” But I would have assumed that because the program was Rules of Engagement and the speakers were the extremely sleazy characters Jeff and Russell.

The word sleazy entered the language in the 1640s as a textile term with the meaning “hairy, fuzzy.” In the 1660s it took on the meaning “flimsy, unsubstantial.” The word was applied to fabrics that were lacking in body, what we’d call flimsy. From there it was used to describe anything lacking in substance and eventually took on the meanings “dilapidated, filthy, slatternly, squalid; sordid, depraved, disreputable, worthless.”

The back formation sleaze meaning “person of low moral standards” is a recent coinage. The earliest example given in the OED is dated 1976. Sleazebag is attested in 1981.

Here are some examples of current usage:

I used to have a purple paisley polyester pull-over… that made me feel 70s sleazy…

…this place is in NO WAY a restaurant…all you have to do is look at the fliers he puts up and you would know its a sleazy nightclub!!

Sleazy Antics of ESPN Stars

How do I stop a sleazy journalist from using my name?

An internet search brought up numerous examples of the word “slazy.” A few are misspellings of sleazy, but most reflect a new coinage based on the word lazy.

Here are two examples in which “slazy” is a misspelling for sleazy:

the places where this happens are slazy, unattractive developments which encourage low-quality behaviour.

…these companies morph from slazy little back alley rooms to full service brightly lit and beautifully appointed offices..

Although the word slazy as a synonym for lazy has not yet made it into the major dictionaries, it is mentioned in the Urban Dictionary. One definition describes it as a combination of sleepy and lazy; another as a slack+lazy. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean as the blog title of a get-rich-quick site called Slazy Cash. Perhaps just “lazy.”

I rather like the definition given by blogger Katie Richardson whose husband created “slazy” as a combination of the intensifier so and lazy to give the meaning “extremely lazy.” Her husband used it to describe the behavior of a man who used his GPS to find a house whose location was already familiar to him. She applies it to behavior motivated by brainless over-reliance on technology.

Used as a spelling or pronunciation for sleazy, “slazy” is a misspelling and a mispronunciation. Used as a “cutesy” word for the standard word lazy, “slazy” has little to recommend it.

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5 thoughts on ““Sleazy” and “slazy””

  1. I would add a further recent use of the noun ‘sleaze’ that is certainly current in Britain. Here ‘sleaze’ means behaviour and conduct of those in high places that is tainted with accusations of corruption, particularly financial, or of being otherwise morally dubious, particularly where it comes allegedly to tarnish a whole administration.

  2. Re “Although the word slazy as a synonym for lazy has not yet made it into the major dictionaries, it is mentioned in the Urban Dictionary. ”

    I think it’s advisable when quoting Urban Dictionary to do so with lots of caveats: it is very “street”, so although it may shed light on new coinages, it contains many obscenities and graphic sexualised definitions that may offend. Also, some entries are jokes, rather than serious definitions or analysis (e.g. the current #2 definition, “I’m a slazy© ass so I can’t type more of a definition.”).

  3. Cecily, the problem is that, in order to learn the meaning of slang terms, you have to consult the folks who use them; and in truth, an awful lot of slang in any age has focused on the sexual, scatological, or obscene. Urban Dictionary is a terrific resource, but like any other resource on the web you have to use it with both common and critical sense. And I think the name “Urban Dictionary” should be an adequate warning notice with respect to something your readers will be accessing electronically; anyone who would be mortified by having been sent to such a resource is probably pretty much a tyro, who will either toughen up fast, develop some techniques for anticipating what websites are likely to offend, or decide to become a confirmed luddite. Caveats would only serve to postpone the inevitable.

  4. I’m just now reading “A Ghost Story” by Mark Twain in which “slazy” is used to describe a cobweb’s movement: “an invisible cobweb swung its swazy woof”, so the word appears to be an older coinage for “lazy” that is now resurfacing on the net.

  5. Lisa K. McFarren,
    Can you tell me where you are reading “A Ghost Story”? I checked it out in three different places. In each text, the movement of the cobweb was described as “lazy,” not “slazy.”

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