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slay

[ sley ]
/ sleɪ /
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verb (used with object), slew or slayed (especially for def. 4); slain;slay·ing.
verb (used without object), slew or slayed (especially for def. 7); slain;slay·ing.
to kill or murder.
Slang. to strongly impress or overwhelm someone: His whole album slays.
noun
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Origin of slay

First recorded before 900; Middle English sleen, slayn, Old English slēan; cognate with Dutch slaan, German schlagen, Old Norse slā, Gothic slahan “to strike, beat”

OTHER WORDS FROM slay

slay·a·ble, adjectiveslay·er, nounun·slay·a·ble, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

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?

Slay is an old word with Germanic roots that’s found in early Old English, but it was generally reserved for killing mythical beasts and vanquishing enemies on the battlefield.

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

Note

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

British Dictionary definitions for slay

slay
/ (sleɪ) /

verb slays, slaying, slew or slain (tr)
archaic, or literary to kill, esp violently
slang to impress (someone) sexually
obsolete to strike

Derived forms of slay

slayer, noun

Word Origin for slay

Old English slēan; related to Old Norse slā, Gothic, Old High German slahan to strike, Old Irish slacaim I beat
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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