slum

A word that seems just made to be down at the heels. The opening sl is wet or messy: don’t slouch or slur or you’ll slide down a slippery slope like a slug into the slush. It commects with um, heard in dumb and bum and, um, um – also in hum and strum and thumb and come and yum, but the sl opening and the definite slump echo are likely to clarify which set of ums it goes with! If this word sounds louche, well it should; it comes from the cant of the criminal class (attested by 1812), and originally meant a room. Of course, given whose word it was, it was not a high-class room, and soon enough it came to refer to the cramped quarters of the English outcastes. And if some toff wished to ditch his pile for some infra dig digs, he could cutely enough call it slumming – we now use the verb fairly broadly, but always with the sense of taking a downward holiday from one’s regular station. Slums are cramped quarters where many may brush shoulders, and this word brushes shoulders with quite a few in regular use: dweller, lord, clearance; also sprawling, housing, urban, city; lately Sadr City in Baghdad has come often in the same sentence; and, now tattooed into our tongue, slumdog (which for contrast goes with millionaire).

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