The Meaning of Slack: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of slack? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word slack, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word slack mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Cambridge English Dictionary, the word slack can be used as a noun, adjective, or verb. As an adjective, the word slack is used to refer to something that is not tight, or something that is loose and yielding. For example, a cable could have slack on it, which eliminates strain on the wires inside. On a boat, someone might need to release gradual slack on one of the ropes of the sails. An ol​d man’s skin might have slack to it compared to a baby. The slackness of the rope determines how much the sails can blow. It can also refer to something that is not busy or productive, or that is showing little activity. As a noun, the word slack can be used to refer to something that is too loose, or the looseness of an item. It can also refer to small pieces of dust from coal or a mixture of small coal fragments that might crumble or be run through a sieve. As a verb, the word slack means to work more slowly or with less effort, as in the phrase slack off. This word is very versatile. Try using this word of the day or other new words in a sentence today!

The word slack can be used to describe almost anything. Someone running slower than usual could be at a slack pace. A drummer behind the beat could be at a slack rhythm. A stretch of water that usually has a strong flow could be slack, flowing at little speed and revealing a soft wet area of dirt due to the turning of the tide. Slack always implies a noticeable deterioration or decrease in tension or use of resources. If team members at Google aren’t pulling their weight, or if a waiter doesn’t know a menu, or if an editor doesn’t check the copyright, they are slacking off. Don’t get confused with the clothing item – those fashionable lime slacks aren’t relaxed!

Many different languages also contain adjectives that mean slack. You may notice that some of these words look similar to the word slack. This might be because they have a common root word or language of origin such as Latin. These are called cognates, which are words and phrases that look, sound, and mean similar things between languages. This list of translations for the word slack is provided by Word Sense.

  • German: schlaff‎
  • Russian: рассла́бленный‎, ненатя́нутый‎
  • Dutch: slap‎
  • Spanish: flojo‎ (masc.), flojo‎ (masc.)
  • Finnish: löysä‎
  • Maori: pūngohe‎ (of a rope), tatetate‎ (of a rope or lashing), korokoro‎ (of clothing, rope, cord etc), tāngengangenga‎ (of a rope), kōrurururu‎ (of a rope), kaewa‎ (of a rope)
  • Serbo-Croatian: labavo‎, opušteno‎

What is the origin of the word slack?

According to Etymonline, the word slack comes from the Old English sleac, Old English slæc, or slæk meaning remiss or lax, from the Proto-Germanic slakas. This word also has its roots in the Middle English slak or Middle English slac, and Old High German slah or Old High German slach. These words have also given us the German slecke, Dutch slak, Old Norse slakr, Old Norse slakki, and Old Norse slākr. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root sleg meaning to be languid. This has been used to mean not tight since the year 1300. Slack has been used as an adverb since the late 14th century, and has been used figuratively since 1840. Slack has been used as a noun to mean some cessation since the early 14th century and was formed from the adjective. The phrase take up the slack has been used since 1930, and the term to cut someone some slack has been used since 1968. Slack has been used to refer to coal dust since the mid-15th century, as as a verb since the 1510 to refer to the action of making slack .This has been used in a figurative sense from the 1540s, and was repopularized since 1904, where we get the idea of a person being a “slacker” or one who slacks off. There are many related words that come from the word slack including slacked, slacking, slacken, slack-jawed, slackly, slag, sleep, slouch, and many more!

How can the word slack be used in a sentence?

Since slack can be used as a noun, adjective or verb, this means it can be used in a variety of ways in different sentences. Below are a few examples of using the word slack as different parts of speech.

The teacher cut the volleyball team some slack when they won the championship game.

The rope was too slack for us to safely make it across the bridge.

Mavis had a tendency to slack off toward the end of the day.

Business was slack during the recession.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word slack?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word slack, particularly in its adjective form. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase.Synonyms are a useful English language tool that can be used to expand your vocabulary and help you to avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the adjective slack is provided by Thesaurus.

  • floating
  • baggy
  • laggard
  • apart
  • unrestrained
  • wobbly
  • unrestricted
  • unbound
  • unbuttoned
  • dull
  • limp
  • sloppy
  • unsteady
  • relaxed
  • slow-moving
  • feeble
  • unshackled
  • insecure
  • separate
  • slow
  • quaggy
  • undone
  • untied
  • unconfined
  • flabby
  • leisurely
  • not fitting
  • loose
  • passive
  • inactive
  • unconnected
  • hanging
  • falloff
  • drop-off
  • slump
  • sluggish
  • infirm
  • unattached
  • weak
  • clear
  • quiet
  • uncaged
  • free
  • at large
  • movable
  • soft
  • detached
  • easy
  • asunder
  • flaccid
  • unsecured
  • released
  • unlatched
  • escaped
  • unbolted
  • unpinned
  • unfastened
  • not taut
  • supine
  • inert
  • loosened
  • flexible
  • disconnected
  • slackened
  • unclasped
  • unhooked
  • unlocked
  • lax
  • flimsy
  • unhinged
  • unfettered
  • liberated

There are also numerous different words that mean the opposite of the adjective slack. These are called antonyms, and are another great way to easily expand your vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word slack is provided by Thesaurus as well. 

  • fixed
  • crowded
  • simmering
  • effective
  • enduring
  • pushing
  • skintight
  • sturdy
  • astir
  • swarming
  • efficacious
  • traveling
  • narrow
  • operative
  • going
  • rushing
  • solid
  • stable
  • secure
  • cramped
  • functioning
  • unbending
  • fast
  • close
  • speeding
  • restless
  • flowing
  • movable
  • invulnerable
  • mobile
  • progressive
  • steady
  • tightened
  • constricted
  • active
  • strained
  • in play
  • stiff
  • clasped
  • hasty
  • compact
  • snug
  • drawn
  • set
  • operating
  • rapid
  • quick
  • streaming
  • tense
  • unyielding
  • established
  • inflexible
  • hidebound
  • running
  • taut
  • turning
  • stretched
  • rustling
  • tight
  • shifting
  • impelling
  • moving
  • thick
  • close-fitting
  • at work
  • firm
  • rigid
  • in force
  • working
  • bustling
  • alive
  • bound
  • in process
  • walking
  • strong
  • speedy
  • rolling
  • exertive
  • contracted
  • tenacious
  • dense

Overall, the word slack can be used as a noun, adjective or verb. All of the different meanings of slack refer to some looseness or relaxation. As an adjective, slack means literally loose or figuratively relaxed. As a noun, slack refers to the state of looseness or relaxation. As a verb, slack refers to the action of working with less activity than usual or to loosening something. Many different things can be slack, from slack water, to the slack of a rope, to slack sails, to slack attendance. These all imply a decrease in rigor, intensity,  or a slack condition. This common word has gained popularity and is used in chat and everyday speech.