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Alternative forms[edit]


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), Dutch zaluwen (to sully) (Middle Dutch saluwen (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.

Coordinate terms[edit]