Daily Archives: March 31, 2009


Does this word have a misogynistic edge? Perhaps so, although it does at least embody the expectation that women are usually neat, clean, et cetera, in designating an exception to that. Men, it seems, are sloppy and dirty more as a matter of course, and so one is hard put to come up with an equivalent males-only word. To the word, anyway, if it’s not too distasteful: does it present a picture of a sleazy, sly or sullen slut peeping through spattered slats, with ladders in her hose and her slip in tatters, along with a smattering of other unflattering details? Phonaesthetics do aid the connotations. And if this word seems rather close to splatter, well it should: though they may or may not have arisen independently, splatter and this word’s source, the dialect verb slatter, are both imitative – onomatopoeic and generally phonaesthetic – words signifying much the same thing. From that comes slattern to refer to a woman of untidy habits (yes, indeed, why only a woman? but there you have an eye into British cultural history – this word has been applied to men, but only very rarely), and, as with the apparently unrelated (though again so similar!) slut, looseness of physical hygiene was extended quite readily to looseness of moral character, as of one whose mattress rattles in rentals as she natters… I leave further exploration of the unflattering patterns of sl words and the various effects available with att and ern to the reader as an exercise.