General English

  • noun behaviour which is disreputable


  • noun political activity of a dishonest or disreputable sort, usually involving bribery and corruption

Origin & History of “sleaze”

It is common practice to name fabrics after their place of manufacture, and from the 17th century that applied to cloth made in Silesia (a region in east-central Europe, now mainly within Poland), and in particular to a type of fine linen or cotton. It did not take long for Silesia to be worn down to Slesia or Sleasia and finally to Sleasie. also in the 17th century we find sleasie being applied as an adjective to fabrics that are thin or flimsy, and although a connection between the two usages has never been proved, the closeness of meaning seems unlikely to be coincidental. soon sleasie (or sleazy) was being used metaphorically for ‘slight, flimsy, insubstantial’. It took a sudden sideways semantic leap in the 1930s and 40s when it began to be used as a term of moral disapproval, denoting squalor, depravity or slatternliness, and it was in this sense that the back-formed noun sleaze first emerged in the 1960s. then in the 1980s the word shifted its target from sex to financially motivated misdemeanours, notably the taking of bribes (the new usage is first recorded in ‘The sleaze factor’, a chapter heading in the book Gambling with History (1983) by the US journalist Laurence Barrett).