Grappling With Yiddish Words That Punch Above Their Weight

Could ‘Shlogn’ Be Related to ‘Slug?'

FIghting Words: An old-school boxer demonstrates the meaning of the Yiddish word shlogn.
Getty Images
FIghting Words: An old-school boxer demonstrates the meaning of the Yiddish word shlogn.

By Philologos

Published April 14, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

How can that be, you ask, when the parallel with German schlagen seems so clear? The OED’s editors, needless to say, were not unaware of schlagen, but they connected it to another English word, “slay” — not the “slay” of “to kill,” but “slay” meaning “an instrument used in weaving to beat the weft,” called slag in Old German.

The post-vocalic shift of Germanic “g” to English “y” is a regular phenomenon. Thus, for example, we have German/Yiddish Weg/veg (from Germanic uegh) and English “way”; German/ Yiddish sagen/zogn (from Germanic seku) and English “say”; German/Yiddish Regen/regn (from Germanic regna) and English “rain,” etc. It was this shift, presumably, that led the OED’s editors to rule out the possibility that “slug” or “slog” could be related to schlagen, since the Germanic “g” would not have survived in English.

I was now in Stage 2. Who was I to challenge the OED? And yet its verdict bothered me. The resemblance between “slug” and schlagen/shlogn just didn’t seem likely to be a coincidence. Could there be any grounds for arguing that it mightn’t be?

I thought for a minute. The “g”-to-”y” shift took place early on in Old English’s development, in the first centuries of the Common Era. Were there any Germanic languages that might have introduced a word like “slug” or “slog” into English after this shift took place, so that the “g” would not have been affected by it? Indeed there were.

Starting with the ninth century, large areas of northern and eastern England fell under the control of Danish invaders, who bequeathed to English such everyday words as “egg,” “dirt,” “leg,” “sky,” “take,” and “ill” – and in Danish, the word for a blow is slag, as it also is in Swedish and Norwegian. (In contemporary Danish, to be sure, slag is pronounced “slow,” but in early medieval times the “g” was still sounded.)

Could slag, then, have entered medieval English from Danish and lived on there to become “slog” and “slug”? I can’t on the face of it imagine any reason that it couldn’t have — apart from the fact, that is, that the OED’s all-knowing editors didn’t think of it. That’s undeniably a weighty reason, but not quite weighty enough to carry the day. I vote for a “slug”/shlogn connection. It’s better than obscurity.

Questions for Philologos may be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?








You may also be interested in our English-language newsletters:













We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.