Slack vs slake

  • Slack and slake are two words that are close in spelling and pronunciation and may be considered confusables. Confusables is a catch-all term for words that are often confused in usage. Two words or more than two words may be confused because they are similar in spelling, similar in pronunciation, or similar in meaning. These commonly confused words may be pronounced the same way or pronounced differently or may be spelled the same way or spelled differently, or may have different meanings or have almost different meanings; they may be homophones, homonyms, heteronyms, words that have a similar spelling, or words that have a similar meaning. Confusables often confound native speakers of English, and they may be difficult for ESL students and those learning English to understand. Confusables are misspelled, misused words and may be nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, or any other part of speech. Spelling rules in English are not dependable; there are many exceptions. Often, the best procedure for learning commonly misused words and commonly confused words in English is to make word lists of English words for the learner to study. A spell checker will rarely find this type of mistake in English vocabulary, so do not rely on spell check but instead, learn to spell and learn the definitions of words. Even a participant in a spelling bee like the National Spelling Bee will ask for an example of a confusable in a sentence, so that she understands which word she is to spell by using context clues. Confusables are often used in wordplay like puns. We will examine the different meanings of the confusables slack and slake, the word origins of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.


    Slack means loose or not taut; inactive or lazy; slow or quiet. The word slack is used as an adjective, noun, or transitive verb, which is a verb that takes an object. For instance, a rope may be slack (adjective), one may take up the slack on a rope, (noun), or one may slack off on the rope (verb). The word slack is derived from the Old English word, slæc, which means sluggish, gentle, or remiss. Related words are slacks, slacked, slacking, slacken, slacker.


    Slake means to quench one’s thirst, either literally or figuratively. Slake may mean to satisfy one’s yearnings. The word slake is a transitive verb; related words are slakes, slaked, slaking. Slake is derived from the Old English word, slacian, meaning to become not as eager or to diminish.


    If the largest buyer in any market backs away, there’s a new price equilibrium discovered by that market, as it hopes for a new buyer to take up the slack. (Forbes)

    “Waves have started to slack off and weaken.” (Register-Guard)

    Business being light, our hardy entrepreneurs took it upon themselves to rove up and down the street, hoping to convince random neighbors to slake their thirst. (Columbus Dispatch)

    Outside in the streets of Bungendore, there’s a thirst for quasi-normality poised to be slaked. (Canberra Times)

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