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From Middle English sulien (also sulwen), from Old English sylian ‎(to sully, soil, pollute), from Proto-Germanic *suliwōną, *sulwōną, *sulwijaną ‎(to sully, make dirty), from Proto-Indo-European *sūl- ‎(thick liquid, muck). Cognate with Old Saxon sulian ‎(to sully), Middle Dutch soluwen ‎(to sully), German sühlen ‎(to sully), Danish søle ‎(to sully), Swedish söla ‎(to sully). Perhaps conflated partially with Old French souillier ("to soil";> French souiller), from the same Germanic source. Related also to Old English solian ‎(to soil, become defiled, make or become foul). More at soil.



sully ‎(third-person singular simple present sullies, present participle sullying, simple past and past participle sullied)

  1. (transitive) to soil or stain; to dirty
    He did not wish to sully his hands with gardening.
    • Roscommon
      statues sullied yet with sacrilegious smoke
  2. (transitive) to damage or corrupt
    He did not wish to sully his reputation with an ill-mannered comment.
    • Atterbury
      no spots to sully the brightness of this solemnity
  3. (intransitive) To become soiled or tarnished.
    • Francis Bacon
      Silvering will sully and canker more than gilding.