What does ‘slewed’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: slewed….

The verb slewed strikes me as rather British, although I can’t say why. Perhaps it’s because it carries the whiff of something slightly old-fashioned?

In any case, I encountered slewed recently, in the book The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst.

Here is how he used it. 

This was a mad leap from anything I knew of her, and I saw how in twenty minutes the whole occasion, which had started so sweetly, had slewed out of my control.

While I could guess the meaning from context — it means to turn or slide violently or uncontrollably in a particular direction — I don’t think I would have been able to use it in a sentence myself.
(I’m guessing that the motorcyclist at the top of this post is remaining in perfect control of his bike, I thought the steep angle he’s employing helps illustrate the meaning of slewed.)
The etymology of the word is interesting. Use dates back to 1800 and it peaked in 1930. It’s a nautical word of unknown origin. Slewed (1801) is slang for “drunk.” And someone who is Slew-footed is a clumsy person who walks with feet turned out. (This reference dates from 1896.)
Here’s another side note: Slew also falls into the rather large group of nouns referring to a large group of things — as in “a slew of nouns” or “I saw a whole slew of birds in the tree by the river.” The noun comes from the Irish Gaelic sluagh, meaning “multitude.”