Easily Confused Words: Slide vs. Sleight

Slide and sleight are easily confused words, especially as they come up in common sayings, pop songs, and other media.

Slide (pronounced “slye-d”) has multiple meanings.

  • As a verb, it means to move quickly across a slick surface, like an object on an icy surface or a waxy floor.
  • As a verb, it can also mean falling or dropping. Typically this describes numerical figures like prices, stocks, economic indicators, or a students’ grades in school.
  • As a noun, it means a playground fixture for children’s enjoyment. It’s a sharp incline with stairs at the back. Riders climb the stairs, then sit down to ride the slide.
  • As a noun, in film photography, slides are positive images on film that are developed in solution. Once dry, they are cut apart and framed so they can be viewed in a carousel. These are the precursor to today’s digital “slideshows.”
  • A slide rule is a manual tool used for calculating logarithms, trig, and high school level advanced math. The slide rule famously referenced in the Sam Cooke 1960s song, (What A) Wonderful World This Would Be.” The slide rule predates today’s graphing and advanced math TI calculators, and software that performs similar tasks.
  • Slide guitar involves wearing a sleeve over one or more fingers on the fretboard playing hand. The sleeve can be metal, glass, or ceramic. For lap style playing, the sleeve is held in the hand rather than worn.

Sleight (pronounced “slye-t”) is a noun. It means possessing skill and talent in an area, or craftiness and cunning in an area. Sometimes both talent and cunning exist at once. People with a skill want to show it off, and often, earn money by doing so.

Sleight is rarely used on its own in US English. Instead, it’s part of a phrase:

  • Sleight of hand means trickery, skill, or deftness in using one’s hands. Perhaps the most famous practitioners of sleight of hand are magicians and some street performers.

Figuratively speaking, the idiom “sleight of hand” can also mean being a tricky or deceitful person. This phrase is mentioned in U2’s 1987 song, “With or Without You,” a ballad about a tumultuous, on-again, off-again relationship.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Sluggo’s grades were beginning to slide as he became more and more obsessed with magic. He spent hours learning new tricks, and perfecting his sleight of hand. 

The post relates to another post: Easily Confused Words: Slight vs. Sleight 


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