Origin of slay
OTHER WORDS FROM slayslay·a·ble, adjectiveslay·er, nounun·slay·a·ble, adjective
Words nearby slay
ABOUT THIS WORD
What else does slay mean?
Slay can mean “to kill a person or animal,” “to make someone laugh,” “to have sex with someone,” or “to do something spectacularly well,” especially when it comes to fashion, artistic performance, or self-confidence.
Where did the term slay come from?
Fast forward to the 1920s, the age of jazz, flappers, and some serious slang. To slay someone in the Roaring Twenties meant “to make someone laugh very hard,” commonly expressed as You slay me!
There’s some evidence that slay emerged as slang for “looking attractively fashionable” in the 1800s. But in Black, Latinx, queer ball culture in the 1970–80s, slaying definitely came to refer to when an outfit, hair, makeup, dance moves, and attitude were all flawless. It’s a metaphor: One is “killing it” with their stunning self and style.
Slay spread in the intersectional worlds of gay culture, fashion, and the drag scene. It was heavily featured in 1991 in the influential New York drag documentary Paris Is Burning. When RuPaul’s Drag Race brought drag culture into millions of living rooms starting in 2009, slay got a massive signal boost.
In 2016, Beyoncé took slay mainstream. She commanded her ladies to get in formation and slay. The ladies of the world answered with another term originated by queer ball culture: Yas, queen! Slay had slain, crossing over into (though some would say being appropriated by) non-queer Black and feminist spheres.
In an interesting twist, slay queen has become slang for a vain, vapid, gold-digging woman in Kenya.
How to use the term slay
While an old word, slay, for “kill,” has not fallen out of use. Buffy the Vampire Slayer literally and figuratively slew on TV in the 1990s as did the character Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, on Game of Thrones in the 2000s. The metal band Slayer have been slaying their guitar since 1981.
As for the slang slay, it’s especially found in gay and Black female culture. It can be used whenever a person looks self-confidently good, acts in a self-empowered way, or does or achieves something spectacular, especially in the face of some challenge. It’s often issued as an exclamation: Slay! That is, Do it!, You got this!, Right on! While the formal past tense of slay is slew, the slang past tense tends to be slayed.
As with a lot of contemporary slang rapidly popularized on social media, slay has been the inspiration of cultural products, from makeup like Slay All Day to books, like Constance C.R. White’s 2018 How to Slay: Inspiration from the Queens and Kings of Black Style. Actress Nia Sioux released an anthem to slaying, “SLAY,” in 2015.
Slay has gone mainstream, but be mindful that it originated in Black, queer culture, which may see insensitive or glib uses of the term as appropriative.
More examples of slay:
“Because White concludes that at the heart of how we slay — whether wearing natural hair, sporting Kente cloth, choosing a baggier jean over a more fitted one, going makeup-free, or beating our faces within an inch of their lives — is authenticity. And without this realness, White says, it’s impossible to slay.”
—Elizabeth Wellington, The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
How to use slay in a sentence
Intrepid adventurers grind out currency to purchase enchanted armaments from their local outfitters, and delve into dungeons to slay wolves, scorpions and killer robots.On Discord, bots find a foothold as mini indie success stories|Luke Winkie|March 25, 2021|Washington Post
Partially or fully wiping out federal student loan debt would be a godsend to many Americans but not be enough to slay the fund-eating dragon that has become a many-headed hydra.Even forgiving student loans won’t solve the higher education funding crisis|Elizabeth Shermer|January 22, 2021|Washington Post
The Eagles were booted from playoff contention in Week 16, but their plan of “going out here to mess up some dreams,” as cornerback Darius Slay put it, will be difficult to accomplish.Washington football preview: Alex Smith on track to start vs. Eagles with playoffs on the line|Nicki Jhabvala|January 2, 2021|Washington Post
Cornerback Darius Slay sustained a head injury and is currently in the league’s concussion protocol.The Saints and Chiefs are in hot pursuit of NFL’s critical top playoff seeds|Neil Greenberg|December 18, 2020|Washington Post
A year after I quit eating sugar and flour in an effort to slay my food demons, I read a section of my medical chart that compared my latest blood-test results with earlier ones.
“It brings me little joy to approach anyone and slay them,” he said.
Their initiation is to slay an infant in front of its mother in order to remove any semblance of humanity or emotion.
But because these tax cuts have powerful, well-connected constituencies, it has been difficult to slay them.Fiscal Cliff Hostage Situation Day 14: The Thelma & Louise Caucus|Daniel Gross|November 21, 2012|DAILY BEAST
It was only a matter of time before these two enormous egos would clash—and try to slay each other.
Even when she's forced to slay a dragon, she's on autopilot, going through the motions.
On land and in sea the animal creation chase and maim, and slay and devour each other.God and my Neighbour|Robert Blatchford
So we were wroth and made to slay the other baas, but he shot us down with a fire stick and returned to his own country in haste.Uncanny Tales|Various
Her tragic attitude, her wondrous beauty, awed the men, and they lowered the guns that had been raised to slay the father.The Courier of the Ozarks|Byron A. Dunn
And they shall bring upon thee a multitude, and they shall stone thee with stones, and shall slay thee with their swords.
Wilt thou yet say before them that slay thee: I am God; whereas thou art a man, and not God, in the hand of them that slay thee?