1. One who is owned as the property of someone else, especially in involuntary servitude.
2. One who is subservient to or controlled by another: his boss's slave.
3. One who is subject to or controlled by a specified influence: a slave to alcohol; a slave to an irrational fear.
4. One who works extremely hard.
5. One who acts out the role of the submissive partner in a sadomasochistic relationship.
6. A slave ant.
7. A machine or component controlled by another machine or component.
intr.v. slaved, slav·ing, slaves
1. To work very hard or doggedly; toil.
2. To trade in or transport slaves.
3. To cause a machine or component to be controlled by another machine or component.
[Middle English sclave, from Old French esclave, from Medieval Latin sclāvus, from Sclāvus, Slav (from the widespread enslavement of captured Slavs in the early Middle Ages); see SLAV.]
Word History: The derivation of the word slave encapsulates a bit of European history and explains why the two words slave and Slav are so similar; they are, in fact, historically identical. The word slave first appears in English around 1290, spelled sclave. The spelling is based on Old French esclave from Medieval Latin sclavus, "Slav, slave," first recorded around 800. Sclavus comes from Byzantine Greek sklabos (pronounced sklävōs) "Slav," which appears around 580. Sklavos approximates the Slavs' own name for themselves, the Slověnci, surviving in English Slovene and Slovenian. The spelling of English slave, closer to its original Slavic form, first appears in English in the 1500s. Slavs became slaves around the beginning of the ninth century when the Holy Roman Empire tried to stabilize a German-Slav frontier. By the 1100s, stabilization had given way to wars of expansion and extermination that did not end until 1410, when the Poles crushed the knights of the Teutonic Order at Grunwald in north-central Poland. · As far as the Slavs' own self-designation goes, its meaning is, understandably, better than "slave"; it comes from the Indo-European root *kleu-, whose basic meaning is "to hear" and occurs in many derivatives meaning "renown, fame." The Slavs are thus "the famous people." Slavic names ending in -slav incorporate the same word, such as Czech Bohu-slav, "God's fame," Russian Msti-slav, "vengeful fame," and Polish Stani-slaw, "famous for withstanding (enemies)."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.