Angela’s ABCs: Words Easily Confused, Sliver and Slither

While being offered a slice of birthday cake the other day, someone said they’d love to have just a slither. It sounded more or less correct until I thought about it a bit more, and realised that what they meant was a sliver, or a small slice.

Sliver is most usually used as a noun meaning a slender piece cut, split, or broken off; a splinter; or a small narrow piece, portion, or plot.

  • The bottle shattered sending small slivers of glass across the floor.
  • Problems were caused by a small sliver of land which apparently didn’t belong to anybody.
  • If all the slivers of wood from the true cross were pieced together, the resulting structure would be enormous.

Slither is most usually used as a verb meaning to move smoothly over a surface with a twisting motion; to glide or slide like a reptile; to walk with a sliding or shuffling gait; or to slip and slide, as on a loose, slippery or uneven surface.

  • The snake slithered menacingly over the fallen leaves, flicking its tongue as it went.
  • Because of the rain, the snow had turned to ice, so we slithered unsteadily down to the shops.
  • The crate slithered down the chute, jolting noisily into the cellar below.

Footnote:

One way of remembering the difference is to say to yourself that snakes slither but cakes don’t.

2 Comments on “Angela’s ABCs: Words Easily Confused, Sliver and Slither

  1. You’ve only described slither the verb but to use slither the noun to describe a very thin piece of cake would be perfectly correct.

    I always wonder why people are so quick to assume others are wrong and then go and publish something on the Internet about it!

    • I think many people would disagree with you as well as many dictionaries, though the OED agrees with you. I don’t think it’s about what’s right and what’s wrong but it’s more about usage and the evolution of language and I have as much right to express my view on the Internet as you do.

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