Webster says that the word "slave" goes back to the word "Slav", as the early slaves in Europe were all from among Slavs. Is this etymology generally accepted, or are there some other theories?

  • According to my sources, there are at least 6 different theories as to the word's etymology, out of whom the one you cite is occasionally referred to as "unfounded" and "indicative of the Western perspective". I'll come back to this as soon as I get the time.
    – m.a.a.
    Nov 28 '16 at 9:01
  • Please, come back soon!
    – brilliant
    Nov 28 '16 at 11:13
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    Sorry for the enthusiasm. My answer, which I have now removed, was actually addressing the origin of the word Slav, not the word slave. My mistake.
    – m.a.a.
    Nov 28 '16 at 14:22

This etymology seems fairly certain. Per the OED, the words Slav and slave comes from the Medieval Latin sclavus (c. 800CE), itself from the late Greek Σκλαβος (c. 580CE). According to the OED, documents of the ninth century attest to the attribution of word to the subjugated peoples of central Europe.

  • This is very interesting - from medieval Latin sclavus, sclava, The earlier classical-Latin form was serf, which etymology was retained in English to describe the bonded peoples of Russia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, down to the 19th century - people who were indeed ethnically Slavonic.
    – WS2
    Nov 28 '16 at 8:51
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    I can very much ensure you that the word Slav comes from the Slavic word "slovo", meaning "word", and ultimately comes from PIE root cleu- meaning "to listen" (the same root as in the first compound in Cleopatra).
    – Anixx
    Jul 22 '18 at 16:32
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    @Reygoch In Russian slovo means word
    – Anixx
    Aug 5 '18 at 12:29
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    @Reygoch "Letter" is a secondary meaning. Slavic writing was invented quite late. Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian are the same language, by the way...
    – Anixx
    Aug 6 '18 at 6:47
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    @Reygoch the word *slovo existed in Proto-Slavic.
    – Anixx
    Aug 6 '18 at 12:11

The origin appears to have developed from the wars of Otto the Great against the Slavs, ( people from central and east Europe) many of whom were reduced to the state of slavery as suggested by Earnest Klein. The above theory appears to be quite established, what remains unclear and has generated many different theories it the origin of the term Slavs, see also "Origin of the word Slavs":

  • late 13c., "person who is the chattel or property of another," from Old French esclave (13c.), from Medieval Latin Sclavus "slave" (source also of Italian schiavo, French esclave, Spanish esclavo), originally "Slav" (see Slav); so used in this secondary sense because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering peoples.

  • This sense development arose in the consequence of the wars waged by Otto the Great and his successors against the Slavs, a great number of whom they took captive and sold into slavery. [Klein]

  • More common Old English words for slave were þeow (related to þeowian "to serve") and þræl (see thrall). The Slavic words for "slave" (Russian rab, Serbo-Croatian rob, Old Church Slavonic rabu) are from Old Slavic *orbu, from the PIE root *orbh- (also source of orphan), the ground sense of which seems to be "thing that changes allegiance" (in the case of the slave, from himself to his master). The Slavic word is also the source of robot.

  • Slav has totally clear etymology: Sloviane are the ones which can speak as opposed to Nemtsi (the ones who are mute). Slovo means "word" in most Slavic languages.
    – Anixx
    Jul 22 '18 at 16:36

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