Fiber Word Nerds: Origin of the Word Sleazy

BeWeave ItToday on BeWeave It, we’re bringing you some fun fiber-related etymology!

Wherever you happen to fall on the political spectrum, the word “sleazy” has probably crossed your mind when thinking of one or two of this year’s batch of presidential candidates. It’s such a good word for what it describes, calling to mind some kind of oozing sliminess, festering in corruption. But did you know that the origin of the word sleazy is textile-related? My weaving teacher used this term last week, so I did some research to learn more!

Before the mid-20th century, the word (sometimes spelled “sleezy”) was used to describe fabrics of a thin or flimsy texture. In particular, it referred to fabric with a very loose weave, with fewer intersections of warp and weft.

A historical example can be found in one of George Washington’s 1757 letters to the Earl of Loudoun, in which he describes the uniforms given to the soldiers of the Continental Army, saying, “They were presented each with a suit made of thin, sleazy cloth without lining.”

Some sources link this word to the region Silesia, a central European region where fine linen was manufactured in the 17th and 18th centuries. Unfortunately for the Silesians, cheap knock-off textiles sold as “Silesian” completely destroyed the region’s reputation, such that “Silesia cloth” was assumed to be, well, sleazy. The word sleazy may have been a corruption of the word “Silesia.”

So now you know the origin of the word sleazy! It’s easy to see where our modern definition got some of its nuances of deceptiveness, moral insubstantiality, and general unpleasantness! I’m working on my first ever rigid-heddle piece, so here’s hoping I can strike the right balance between over-packed and over-sleazy!

What are some of your favorite fiber-related etymologies? Let me know in the comments!

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