General English


  • noun a type of heavy non-porous soil made of fine particles of silicate


  • A fine-grained material, consisting mainly of hydrated silicates of aluminum, that is soft and cohesive when moist, but becomes hard when baked or fired. Clay is used to make bricks, tiles, pipe, earthenware, etc.


  • noun a wet, sticky type of soil, which can be used as a raw material for the manufacture of ceramics


  • particles in soils smaller than two microns (0.002 mm) in diameter

Origin & History of “clay”

Clay is named from its consistency – its stickiness, its squidginess, its capacity for being smeared. Its ultimate source is the Indo-European base *gloi-, *glei-, *gli-, from which English also gets glue and gluten. From it was descended the Germanic base *klai-, on which was formed west Germanic *klaijō-. this passed into Old English as clæg – hence modern English clay. (Clammy comes from the same Germanic source, and clag, from which we get claggy ‘muddy’, is essentially the same word as clay, although it reached English via a Scandinavian route.).