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Alternative forms[edit]


Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English salowe, from Old English salu, from Proto-West Germanic *salu, from Proto-Germanic *salwaz, from Proto-Indo-European *solH.

See also Dutch zaluw, dialectal German sal; also Irish salach (dirty), Welsh halog, Latin salīva, Russian соло́вый (solóvyj, cream-colored).


sallow (comparative sallower, superlative sallowest)

  1. (of skin) Yellowish.
    1. (most regions, of light skin) Of a sickly pale colour.
      • c. 1591–1595 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Romeo and Ivliet”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act II, scene iii]:
        Jesu Maria, what a deal of brine
        Hath wash’d thy sallow cheeks for Rosaline!
      • 1770, Henry Brooke, The Fool of Quality[1], volume 5, Dublin, page 162:
        [] were it not that his Complexion is sallow, and that he is something short of a Leg, and Blind of one Eye, he would positively be the most lovely of all the human Species.
      • 1876, George Eliot [pseudonym; Mary Ann Evans], chapter LXII, in Daniel Deronda, volume IV, Edinburgh, London: William Blackwood and Sons, →OCLC, book VIII (Fruit and Seed), page 226:
        Once a handsome face, with bright color, it was now sallow and deep-lined []
      • 1913, Mrs. [Marie] Belloc Lowndes, chapter II, in The Lodger, London: Methuen, →OCLC; republished in Novels of Mystery: The Lodger; The Story of Ivy; What Really Happened, New York, N.Y.: Longmans, Green and Co., [], [1933], →OCLC, page 0091:
        Then his sallow face brightened, for the hall had been carefully furnished, and was very clean. ¶ There was a neat hat-and-umbrella stand, and the stranger's weary feet fell soft on a good, serviceable dark-red drugget, which matched in colour the flock-paper on the walls.
      • 1937, Virginia Woolf, chapter 1880, in The Years[2], New York: Harcourt, Brace, page 64:
        [] there was something owl-like about the eyes, round which there was a sallow, hollow depression.
      • 1961 November 10, Joseph Heller, “The Eternal City”, in Catch-22 [], New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, →OCLC, page 433:
        She had sallow skin and myopic eyes, and none of the men had ever slept with her because none of the men had ever wanted to []
      • 2023 September 9, Jason Farago, “The 19th Century’s Most Scandalous Painting Comes to New York”, in The New York Times[3]:
        For more than a century after the scandal of 1865, artists and historians wrestled with Olympia’s sallow skin, the bracelet on her right forearm, the orchid in her upswept red hair.
    2. (Ireland) Of a tan colour, associated with people from southern Europe or East Asia.
  2. (of a person) Having skin (especially on the face) of a sickly pale colour.
    • 1891, Oscar Wilde, “chapter 2”, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, London, New York, N.Y., Melbourne, Vic.: Ward Lock & Co., →OCLC:
      Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed.
    • 1920, D. H. Lawrence, chapter 1, in Women in Love[5], New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, published 1996, page 14:
      She put her hand on the arm of her careworn, sallow father, and frothing her light draperies, proceeded over the eternal red carpet.
    • 1982, Saul Bellow, chapter 2, in The Dean’s December[6], New York: Pocket Books, published 1983, page 20:
      In a matter of hours she was looking gaunt, and sallow: her face had a kind of negative color.
  3. (of objects or dim light) Having a similar pale, yellowish colour.
  4. Foul; murky; sickly.
    • 1972, United States. Congress. House. Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation, Predatory Mammals and Endangered Species, page 559:
      Mr. President, the sallow air of our cities, the blackened sands of our seashores, our lakes and harbors reeking of sewage and depleted of oxygen are but a part of the sad legacy of the idea that nature can be treated as a servant, blindly obedient to every want, whim or pleasure of man.
    • 2011, Jacob Murphy, Guardians, page 44:
      The boat's deck was covered in moss, and its warm, sallow water was filled with lichens that gave off an eerie green glow.
    • 2012, Dr. James Kennedy, The Baywood Tales, page 17:
      My mouth went dry and a sallow feeling descended upon me.
    • 2013, Dr. John H. LaManque, A Bricklayer's Story, page 130:
      The burden of a hollow and sallow feeling that was suffocating my soul as a learner had given way at this time to a joyous feeling of anticipation;
    • 2016, Paul Quintanilla, Master Tom:
      This ugliness, though, filled the air now. With something rank and squalid and seemingly spent with the character of death. No, it wasn't that I was scared, being all alone now out on my property. In my house. It was this surrounding sallow atmosphere now which depressed me. This deep sense of some deep basic wrong occupying my surrounding world.
Derived terms[edit]


sallow (third-person singular simple present sallows, present participle sallowing, simple past and past participle sallowed)

  1. (intransitive) To become sallow.
    • 1912, Flora Annie Steel, King-Errant[10], New York: Frederick A. Stokes, Book 2, Chapter 6, p. 212:
      The tan of his sunburnt face and hands contrasted sadly with the sallowing skin of the girl-wife, who, despite his care, was sinking under her task of son-bearing.
    • 1918, Lola Ridge, “The Garden”, in The Ghetto and Other Poems[11], New York: Huebsch, page 93:
      I might have stemmed them in a narrow vase
      And watched each petal sallowing . . .
    • 1920, John Galsworthy, “‘Here We are Again!’”, in In Chancery (The Forsyte Saga; 2), London: William Heinemann, →OCLC, part II, page 225:
      His complexion had darkened, sallowed; his black moustache had lost boldness, become sardonic; there were lines which she did not know about his face.
    • 1977, Robert Lowell, “Death of a Critic”, in Day by Day[12], New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, page 48:
      My maiden reviews,
      once the verbal equivalent of murder,
      are now a brief, compact pile,
      almost as old as I.
      They fall apart sallowing,
      their stiff pages
      chip like dry leaves
      flying the tree that fed them.
  2. (transitive) To cause (someone or something) to become sallow.
    • 1835, Fanny Kemble (as Frances Anne Butler), Journal, London: John Murray, Volume 1, entry for 15 September, 1832, p. 105, footnote,[13]
      The climate of this country is the scape-goat upon which all ill looks and ill health of the ladies is laid; but while they are brought up as effeminately as they are, take as little exercise, live in rooms like ovens during the winter, and marry as early as they do, it will appear evident that many causes combine with an extremely variable climate, to sallow their complexions, and destroy their constitutions.
    • 1889, George Washington Cable, “How I Got them”, in Strange True Stories of Louisiana[14], New York: Scribner, page 10:
      But would a pretender carry his or her cunning to the extreme of fortifying the manuscript in every possible way against the sallowing touch of time [] ?
    • 1918, Edna Ferber, chapter 9, in Cheerful — By Request[15], Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page, page 252:
      Mary Gowd, with her frumpy English hat and her dreadful English fringe, and her brick-red English cheeks, which not even the enervating Italian sun, the years of bad Italian food or the damp and dim little Roman room had been able to sallow.
    • 1940, Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again[16], Garden City, NY: Sun Dial, published 1942, Book 2, Chapter 11, pp. 169-170:
      All she knew was that she had been stiffened and thickened by the same years that had given the other woman added grace and suppleness, that her skin had been dried and sallowed by the same lights and weathers that had added luster to the radiant beauty of the other []

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English salow, salwe, from Old English sealh, from Proto-West Germanic *salh, from Proto-Germanic *salhaz, masculine variant of *salhō, *salhijǭ, from Proto-Indo-European *sh₂lk-, *sh₂lik-.

See also Low German Sal, Saal; Swedish sälg; also Welsh helyg, Latin salix (and also a doublet of the thence derived English borrowing salix) probably originally a borrowing from some other language.


English Wikipedia has an article on:

sallow (plural sallows)

  1. A European willow, Salix caprea, that has broad leaves, large catkins and tough wood.
    • c. 1553, Humphrey Llwyd (translator), The Treasury of Healthe, London: William Coplande, Remedies, Chapter 44,[17]
      I[f] a man eate the flowers of a sallow or wyllowe tree, or of a Poplet tree, they wyl make cold al the heate of carnall lust in hym.
    • 1596, Edmund Spenser, “Book IV, Canto V”, in The Faerie Queene. [], London: [] [John Wolfe] for William Ponsonbie, →OCLC, page 75:
      And fast beside a little brooke did pas
      Of muddie water, that like puddle stanke,
      By which few crooked sallowes grew in ranke:
    • 1719 May 6 (Gregorian calendar), [Daniel Defoe], The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, [], London: [] W[illiam] Taylor [], →OCLC, pages 125-126:
      [] it came into my Mind, That the Twigs of that Tree from whence I cut my Stakes that grew, might possibly be as tough as the Sallows, and Willows, and Osiers in England []
    • 1819 September 19, John Keats, “To Autumn”, in Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems, London: [] [Thomas Davison] for Taylor and Hessey, [], published 1820, →OCLC, stanza 3, page 139:
      Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn / Among the river sallows, borne aloft / Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; [...]
    • 1914, D. H. Lawrence, “The Shades of Spring”, in The Prussian Officer and Other Stories[18], London: Duckworth, page 158:
      Now, everything irritated him: the two sallows, one all gold and perfume and murmur, one silver-green and bristly, reminded him, that here he had taught her about pollination.
  2. A willow twig or branch.
    • 1387–1400, Geoffrey Chaucer, “(please specify the story)”, in The Canterbury Tales, [Westminster: William Caxton, published 1478], →OCLC; republished in [William Thynne], editor, The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed, [], [London]: [] [Richard Grafton for] Iohn Reynes [], 1542, →OCLC, lines 655-658:
      Who-so that buildeth his hous al of salwes,
      And priketh his blinde hors over the falwes,
      And suffreth his wyf to go seken halwes,
      Is worthy to been hanged on the galwes!
      (please add an English translation of this quotation)
    • 1564, William Bullein, A Dialogue Bothe Pleasaunte and Pietifull Wherein Is a Goodly Regimente against the Feuer Pestilence with a Consolacion and Comfort against Death, London: John Kingston, [p. 22b],[19]
      [] set Sallowes about the bedde, besprinkled with vineger and rose water.
    • 1767, Francis Fawkes (translator), The Idylliums of Theocritus, London, for the author, Idyllium 16, p. 156,[20]
      For lo! their spears the Syracusians wield,
      And bend the pliant sallow to a shield:
    • 1822, Maria Edgeworth, Frank: A Sequel to Frank in Early Lessons[21], volume I, Cambridge, page 111:
      He stuck a number of sallows in a circle, at equal distances, in the grass; the circle was the size which he wished the basket to be. He then began to weave other sallows between these, in a manner which Frank easily learned to imitate []
    • 1867, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Adirondacs”, in May-Day, and Other Pieces[22], Boston: Ticknor & Fields, page 49:
      The sallow knows the basketmaker’s thumb;
      The oar, the guide’s.
Derived terms[edit]


Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of salow