sickly

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From Middle English seekly, sekely, siklich, sekeliche, equivalent to sick +‎ -ly. Possibly a modification of Old English sīcle (sickly) and/or derived from Old Norse sjúkligr (sickly). Cognate with Dutch ziekelijk, Middle High German siechlich, Danish sygelig, Swedish sjuklig, Icelandic sjúklegur.

Pronunciation[edit]

Adjective[edit]

sickly (comparative sicklier, superlative sickliest)

  1. Frequently ill or in poor health.
    a sickly child
    • 1759, Tobias Smollett, letter dated 16 March, 1759, in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, London: Charles Dilly, 1791, Volume 1, p. 190,[1]
      [...] the boy is a sickly lad, of a delicate frame, and particularly subject to a malady in his throat, which renders him very unfit for his Majesty’s service.
    • 1813, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, London: T. Egerton, Volume 1, Chapter 14, p. 151,[2]
      She is unfortunately of a sickly constitution, which has prevented her making that progress in many accomplishments which she could not otherwise have failed of;
    • 1982, Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, New York: Ballantine, 2008, Chapter 1, p. 4,[3]
      [...] the sharp-scented bottle of crystals that sickly Cousin Bertha had carried to ward off fainting spells.
  2. Not in good health; (somewhat) sick.
  3. (of a plant) Characterized by poor or unhealthy growth.
    • 1931, Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth, New York: Modern Library, 1944, Chapter 27, p. 236,[9]
      [...] the good wheat on this land had turned sickly and yellow.
    • 1962, Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Chapter 6, p. 79,[10]
      With the aid of the marigolds the roses flourished; in the control beds they were sickly and drooping.
  4. Appearing ill, infirm or unhealthy; giving the appearance of illness.
    a sickly pallor
    • 1782, Frances Burney, Cecilia, London: T. Payne and Son, and T. Cadell, Volume 1, Book 1, Chapter 9, p. 121,[11]
      [...] she exhibited a countenance so wretched, and a complection so sickly, that Cecilia was impressed with horror at the sight.
    • 1791, Elizabeth Inchbald, A Simple Story, London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, Volume 3, Chapter 12, p. 161-162,[12]
      [...] he saw him arrive with his usual florid appearance: had he come pale and sickly, Sandford had been kind to him; but in apparent good health and spirits, he could not form his mouth to tell him he was “glad to see him.”
    • 1961, Joseph Heller, Catch-22, New York: Dell, Chapter 39,[13]
      Yossarian [...] could not wipe from his mind the excruciating image of the barefoot boy with sickly cheeks [...]
  5. Shedding a relatively small amount of light; (of light) not very bright.
    Synonyms: faint, pale, wan
    • 1665, John Dryden, The Indian Emperour, London: H. Herringman, 1667, Act II, p. 17,[14]
      The Moon grows sickly at the sight of day.
    • 1757, Thomas Gray, Odes, Dublin: G. Faulkner and J. Rudd, p. 5,[15]
      Night, and all her sickly dews,
      Her Spectres wan, and Birds of boding cry,
    • 1849, Charlotte Brontë (as Currer Bell), Shirley, London: Smith, Elder, Volume 1, Chapter 5, p. 85,[16]
      Mr. Moore haunted his mill, his mill-yard, his dye-house, and his warehouse till the sickly dawn strengthened into day.
    • 1872, Mark Twain, Roughing It, Hartford: American Publishing Company, Chapter 32, p. 235,[17]
      [The match] lit, burned blue and sickly, and then budded into a robust flame.
    • 2006, Sarah Waters, The Night Watch, London: Virago, “1944,” section 2, p. 226,[18]
      Duncan saw the men through a haze of wire and cigarette smoke and sickly, artificial light;
  6. Lacking intensity or vigour.
    Synonyms: faint, feeble, insipid, weak
    a sickly smile
    • 1730, James Thomson, The Tragedy of Sophonisba, London: A. Millar, Act II, Scene 1, p. 19,[19]
      What man of soul would [...] run,
      Day after day, the still-returning round
      Of life’s mean offices, and sickly joys;
      But in compassion to mankind?
    • 1779, Hannah More, The Fatal Falsehood, London: T. Cadell, Act II, p. 27,[20]
      [...] my credulous heart
      [...] fondly loves to cherish
      The feeble glimmering of a sickly hope.
    • 1961, Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, Chapter 19,[21]
      He held a vast but carefully concealed distaste for all things American [...] their manners, their bastard architecture and sickly arts … and their blind, pathetic, arrogant belief in their superiority long after their sun had set.
  7. Associated with poor moral or mental well-being.
    Synonym: unhealthy
    • 1766, Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield, London: F. Newbery, Chapter 3, p. 27,[22]
      The slightest distress, whether real or fictitious, touched him to the quick, and his soul laboured under a sickly sensibility of the miseries of others.
    • 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, London: J. Johnson, Part 1, Chapter 3, p. 77,[23]
      These were not the ravings of imbecility, the sickly effusions of distempered brains;
    • 1890, Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, London: Ward, Lock, 1891, Chapter 2, p. 33,[24]
      Don’t squander the gold of your days [...] trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age.
    • 1964, Saul Bellow, Herzog, New York: Viking, p. 319,[25]
      [...] I know how you came to despise all that sickly Wagnerian idiocy and bombast.
    • 2018, Anna Burns, Milkman, London: Faber & Faber, part 4,[26]
      That he had some sickly compulsion neurosis, they said, was very plain for all eyes to see.
  8. Tending to produce nausea.
    Synonyms: nauseating, sickening
    a sickly smell; sickly sentimentality
    • 1865, Christina Rossetti, “Amor Mundi” in Goblin Market; The Prince’s Progress; and Other Poems, London: Macmillan, 1875, p. 286,[27]
      ‘Oh, what is that glides quickly where velvet flowers grow thickly,
      Their scent comes rich and sickly?’—‘A scaled and hooded worm.’
    • 1884, Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, New York: C. L. Webster, 1885, Chapter 23, pp. 197-198,[28]
      [...] it warn’t no perfumery neither, not by a long sight. I smelt sickly eggs by the barrel, and rotten cabbages, and such things;
    • 1895, H. G. Wells, The Time Machine, London: Heinemann, Chapter 4, p. 32,[29]
      [...] the sickly jarring and swaying of the machine [...] had absolutely upset my nerve.
    • 1944, Katherine Anne Porter, “The Leaning Tower” in The Leaning Tower and Other Stories, New York: Harcourt, Brace, p. 173,[30]
      He had scanty discouraged hair the color of tow, and a sickly, unpleasant breath.
  9. Overly sweet.
    Synonyms: cloying, saccharine
  10. (obsolete) Marked by the occurrence of illness or disease (of a period of time).
    • c. 1600, William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 3,[33]
      This physic but prolongs thy sickly days.
    • a. 1768, Laurence Sterne, undated letter in Original Letters, London: Logographic Press, 1788, pp. 110-111,[34]
      [...] if I thought the sentiments of your last letter were not the sentiments of a sickly moment—if I could be made to believe, for an instant, that they proceeded from you, in a sober, reflecting condition of your mind—I should give you over as incurable,
    • 1798, Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, London: J. Johnson, Chapter 7, p. 115,[35]
      [...] the three years immediately following the last period [...] were years so sickly that the births were sunk to 10, 229, and the burials raised to 15, 068.
  11. (obsolete) Tending to produce disease or poor health.
    Synonyms: insalubrious, unhealthy, unwholesome
    a sickly autumn; a sickly climate
    • 1782, William Cowper, “The Progress of Error” in Poems, London: J. Johnson, p. 54,[36]
      Has some sickly eastern waste
      Sent us a wind to parch us at a blast?
    • 1867, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (translator), The Divine Comedy: Inferno, London: Routledge, Canto 20, lines 79-81, p. 64,[37]
      Not far it [the water] runs before it finds a plain
      In which it spreads itself, and makes it marshy,
      And oft ’tis wont in summer to be sickly.

Derived terms[edit]

Translations[edit]

Verb[edit]

sickly (third-person singular simple present sicklies, present participle sicklying, simple past and past participle sicklied)

  1. (transitive, archaic, literary) To make (something) sickly.
    • c. 1600, William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1,[38]
      Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
      And thus the native hue of resolution
      Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
    • 1763, Charles Churchill, An Epistle to William Hogarth, London: for the author, p. 12,[39]
      Thy Drudge contrives, and in our full career
      Sicklies our hopes with the pale hue of Fear;
    • 1840, S. M. Heaton, Thoughts on the Litany, by a naval officer’s orphan daughter, edited by George Heaton, London: William Edward Painter, Section 4, p. 58,[40]
      [] a cancer gnawing at the root of happiness, defeating every aim at permanent good in this world, and sicklying all sublunary joys []
    • 1862, Gail Hamilton, Country Living and Country Thinking, Boston: Ticknor and Fields, “Men and Women,” p. 109,[41]
      He evidently thinks the sweet little innocents never heard or thought of such a thing before, and would go on burying their curly heads in books, and sicklying their rosy faces with “the pale cast of thought” till the end of time []
    • 2000, Ninian Smart, World Philosophies, New York: Routledge, Chapter 9, p. 207,[42]
      Ockham was critical of so many of his fellows for sicklying over theology with the obscurities of philosophy.
  2. (intransitive, rare) To become sickly.
    • 1889, Samuel Cox, An Expositor’s Notebook, London: Richard D. Dickinson, 7th edition, Chapter 26, p. 364,[43]
      But the seven most prominent Apostles [] still hang together, their hearts tormented with eager yet sad questionings, their hopes fast sicklying over with the pale hues of doubt.

Adverb[edit]

sickly (comparative more sickly, superlative most sickly)

  1. In a sick manner; in a way that reflects or causes sickness.
    sickly pale; to cough sickly
    • 1818, John Keats, Endymion, London: Taylor and Hessey, Book 2, lines 859-861, p. 93,[44]
      [] he sickly guess’d
      How lone he was once more, and sadly press’d
      His empty arms together []
    • 1939, John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, New York: Viking, 1962, Chapter , p. 364,[45]
      The dazed man stared sickly at Casy.
    • 1961, Bernard Malamud, A New Life, Penguin, 1968, Chapter , p. 185,[46]
      For ten brutal minutes he was in torment, then the pain gradually eased. He felt sickly limp but relieved, thankful for his good health.
    • 2010, Rowan Somerville, The End of Sleep New York: Norton, Chapter 9, p. 66,[47]
      The creaseless horizontal face of the giant smiled sickly, leering.