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Does English “sludge” relate to “slough” (swamp)? They both of uncertain origin.

"sludge" means mud and "slough" means muddy.

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  • Slough is rarely used in modern Br English. Its last known use in my world was in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress with his metaphorical Slough of Despond. It is more often seen as a verb, as when a snake "sloughs off its skin." Jun 26, 2019 at 22:24
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    Slough is quite common in places with a lot of water. Note that the aquatic noun is pronounced /slu/ while the verb of disposal is pronounced /sləf/. Beyond etymology, most English simplex words beginning with sl- refer in one way or another to a two-dimensional interface, with one side liquid and slippery. See the link for examples. Such an interface is a natural for pejorative terms and they also abound. Jun 27, 2019 at 1:46
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    @JohnLawler Note that the /slu/ pronunciation is limited to the sense relating to marshes, backwaters and channels, which is mainly AmE and CaE. The sense relating to any kind of soft, muddy, swampy ground is mainly BrE and is pronounced /slaʊ/. The figurative meaning ‘despondency’ is also pronounced /slaʊ/ in both BrE and AmE, as far as I know (at least I’ve never heard in a slough pronounced any other way). Jun 27, 2019 at 6:20
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    Interesting. I've never heard slough pronounced /slaʊ/ in the US, with any meaning. On the other hand, I've seen both in a slew and in a slough written, though I would count in a slew of depression as a misspelling. Jun 27, 2019 at 15:10

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In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

Slough is quite common in places with a lot of water. Note that the aquatic noun is pronounced /slu/ while the verb of disposal is pronounced /sləf/. Beyond etymology, most English simplex words beginning with sl- refer in one way or another to a two-dimensional interface, with one side liquid and slippery. See the link for examples. Such an interface is a natural for pejorative terms and they also abound.

Edit from John Lawler:

The link to the sl- words has graphics on it -- a Venn diagram of the three significant meaning classes with considerable overlap (which is why the word counts add up to more than 74) -- so I can't do it here. However, the gist of it is the listings and the senses that repeat.

  1. Liquid/Solid Interface (25 words)
    slake sleet slurry slur slosh sleigh sled slobber sloop sledge slobber slurp slick slather slide slug slime slag slough sluice slop slush slither sleek

  2. Pejoration (39 words)
    sluff slang slink sling slander sloth slip slap sleazy slum slow slut slob slouch slim slow slattern sly slur slosh slobber slurp slink slump slave

  3. Two-Dimensional Contact (35 words)
    sleigh sludge slalom slaw sliver slot slab slat slash slide slip slump slit slice slime slug

Plus 11 "residue" words, not included because they didn't make the cut:
sleuth sleight slay slipper slender slub slain slumber slaughter sloe sleep

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There can be no definitive answer to the question Does English “sludge” relate to “slough” (swamp)? They are both of uncertain origin. If they are of uncertain origin, we cannot say whether that origin is the same for both.

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