The word 'sleaze' has been back in newspaper headlines this weekend, with Peter Mandelson (twice-sacked minister) having been brought back into the Cabinet.
Sleaze is a very interesting word. Its use in the sense of 'squalor, low moral standards' is recent - the OED's first recorded usage is in 1967. It appears to be a back-formation from the adjective sleazy, which has been around since the 17th century. Before the mid-20th century the word was used to describe fabrics and meant 'thin or flimsy in texture'.
Some sources maintain that the word sleazy is a corruption of Silesia, the Central European region which straddles Poland and the Czech Republic. Not that the Silesians are or were sleazy. On the contrary - it was their imitators who had the sleazy reputation. In the 17th and 18th centuries Silesia was renowned for the manufacture of fine linen, and unscrupulous merchants from elsewhere would sell cheap material, pretending it was Silesian. This fraudulent trade was so widespread that the term 'Silesia cloth' became synonymous with shoddiness.
The OED does not go along with this etymology, saying that the origin of the word 'sleazy' is uncertain. It does, however, mention 'Sleasie-Lawns' in a 1696 citation under the entry for Silesia and there is a link to 'sleazy' from the Silesia page.