It was St Swithin’s Day on Thursday, hence today’s word: slunge, which can mean “wade through water or mud in a clumsy, splashing way”.

As recorded in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL,, Scots is rich in words associated with wetness, and it is interesting how many of these words begin with sl-: slabber, slagger, slaister, slatch, slaurie, sluiter and slorach are just a few. The cluster sl- is what linguists call a phonaestheme, in which particular sounds are commonly associated with particular notions. Phonaesthemes aren’t consistent (there’s nothing especially wet or muddy about “slow”, for instance), but poets have always liked them.

DSL’s earliest record of slunge dates from the late 18th century, when it meant primarily “to idle or loaf about, to move or walk in a slouching, lethargic manner”. It could also mean “skulking”, or “scrounging for food”, and an 1825 Roxburghshire citation refers to a “greedy slounge, a phrase applied to a dog that goes about hanging his ears, and prying into every corner for food”. DSL is rather puzzled by the word’s origins, tracing slounge back to “lounge”, and slunge to “plunge”, describing the latter as “probably chiefly imitative”. The association with liquid may be an example of phonaesthetic attraction, whereby a word takes on connotations from other words it resembles formally.

As well as being a verb meaning wading through mud, slunge can also be used in other watery contexts. In Aberdeen a slunge is a sink with an open waste-pipe; Glaswegians give their faces “a wee slunge” to freshen up; and a rather upmarket Edinburgh record of 2004 reads as follows: “Just gie the dishes a slunge an Ah’ll pit them in the dishwasher later”.

Scots Word of the Week is written by Jeremy Smith. Jeremy Smith is Professor of English Philology in the University of Glasgow