Don’t slay your writing: Slew vs. slough

O! The number of times I’ve seen writers misuse these two words!

slough is a slow moving stream, as in With no current to push them downstream, they easily waded across the slough. Sometimes, though, writers like to use slough when they mean to use slew.

Slew has two meanings. First, it’s the past tense of slay – to kill – as in During the epic journey, the warriors slew many opponents. Secondly (and here’s where the confusion comes in), it can mean many, as in A slew of UFO sightings have been reported in the county this past month.

Common sense would suggest that slough would mean many, as the metaphor of the stream seems to make more sense than using the past tense of slay. However, in this case English adopted from the Irish the word slue, which means crowd. Over time, the spelling of slue changed to slew.

And now many English language writers want to drown the guy who did that to the Irish word.