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See also: Sully



A child whose face and hand have been sullied after playing with mud

From Middle English sulen, sulien (to become dirty; to defile, pollute, taint), from Old English sylian (to soil, pollute; to sully),[1] from Proto-Germanic *suliwōną, *sulwōną, *sulwijaną (to make dirty; to sully), from Proto-Indo-European *sūl- (thick liquid, muck), perhaps conflated partially with Old French souillier (to soil) (modern French souiller) from the same Germanic source. The word is cognate with Danish søle (to sully), Dutch zaluwen (to sully) (Middle Dutch saluwen (to sully)), German sühlen (to sully), Old Saxon sulian (to sully), Swedish söla (to sully). Also compare Middle English sulpen (to defile, pollute),[2] Old English solian (to soil, become defiled, make or become foul), and see 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.
    Synonym: (obsolete) sowl
    He did not wish to sully his hands with gardening.
  2. (transitive) To corrupt or damage.
    She tried to sully her rival’s reputation with a suggestive comment.
  3. (intransitive, ergative) To become soiled or tarnished.
    • 1730, Francis Bacon, “The Lord Bacon’s Questions, with Dr. Meverel’s Solutions, Concerning the Compounding, Incorporating, or Union of Metals or Minerals; which Subject is the First Letter of His Lordship’s Alphabet”, in The Works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, Viscount St Alban, and Lord High Chancellor of England, volume III, London: J. and J. Knapton [et al.], OCLC 926240085, page 215:
      [G]old bears the fire, which ſilver doth not: but that is an excellency in nature, but it is nothing at all in uſe; for any dignity in uſe I know none, but that ſilvering will ſully and canker more than gilding; []

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sully (plural sullies)

  1. (rare, obsolete) A blemish.


  1. ^ sulen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 8 January 2018.
  2. ^ sulpen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 8 January 2018.