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I was wondering what differences are between crack, slit, crevice, split, cleft and possibly other similar words, and when to use which?

For example, I just bought a bowl and there is a small such kind of flaw in the bottom.

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3 Answers

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For the most part, the words are interchangeable. Distinguishing between multiple examples of such things can be aided by their individual connotations:

crack

a line on the surface of something along which it has split without breaking into separate parts

A crack tends to be a visible flaw that can splinter or spider into larger cracks with many smaller, attached cracks. The defining point of a crack is that the cracked object is still together — no matter how tenuous. Often there will not be any visible negative space or hole. Most cracks can be felt by rubbing your finger or hand over it.

slit

a long, narrow cut or opening

The biggest difference between a slit and a crack is that a slit implies some form of opening. Cracks also tend to be on a surface; a slit can be in virtually anything. A stereotypical slit is one that causes some portion of the object to pull apart — large slits can go all the way through to reveal a clean hole.

crevice

a narrow opening or fissure, esp. in a rock or wall

A crevice is typically reserved for very large objects that have been separated into more than one distinct section. A crevice in the earth would be something that separates two plains; a crevice in a wall could very well separate the wall into two pieces. "Narrow" is respective to the larger object. A crevice could be meters wide or only inches. A typical crevice is also very deep.

split

a tear, crack, or fissure in something, esp. down the middle or along the grain

A split more directly conveys an object being split into smaller pieces or a longer top-to-bottom crack. A split could also be used to describe pieces that are no longer attached at all. There is no implication of depth with a split; the importance is the length of the split or how much of the surface remains unaffected.

cleft

a fissure or split, esp. one in rock or the ground

When I think of a cleft I typically envision a V-shaped hole. A "cleft in the rock" is a V cut sideways into a mountain that can provide shelter. The "cleft of the chin" is the middle gap in some people's chins. Depth is important to a cleft but the gap will not go all the way through.


To directly address your example of a flaw in the bottom of a bowl, I would expect crack to be the most applicable. If there is a chunk missing but no thin lines it could be best described by chip:

a small piece of something removed in the course of chopping, cutting, or breaking something, esp. a hard material such as wood or stone

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The best way to differentiate the words you mention is to look up their definitions in a dictionary and learn what each truly means. This way you will be able to use them with confidence at will. If you have any access to the Oxford English Dictionary, which libraries often have, the OED sometimes has entries for similar words and how they differ in appropriate usage.

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Welcome! Just as a tip, answers should generally address the question being asked, rather than simply giving information about how the asker might answer it for themselves, at least in my opinion. –  rintaun Jun 22 '11 at 23:47
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A split is probably the most general of these related terms, and carries few of the implications the others do while transmitting the basic meaning -- that the substance or object is fissured. It could properly apply to a small object but it would more likely be used to convey the idea that the bowl itself has broken in two, rather than describing a tiny flaw.

A crack would be the common way to describe such a small flaw, and indicates a fissure through the material:

a break without complete separation of parts

If the break is not complete, one might alternatively describe the bowl as chipped, which just means that it possesses some kind of mark or flaw caused by breaking off (or gouging, etc.) a small piece from the object.

Now, the other words don't really seem to describe tiny flaws in small objects. Cleft also just means "fissure" but in general usage would more commonly be applied to natural features of objects -- like rocks, or the earth, etc.

With respect to a hand-crafted object like a bowl, possessing a cleft would serve to add the additional implication that it had been designed that way. A slit adds the additional implication that the feature is long and narrow, though again this term adds the implication that the feature is natural or designed.

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Thanks! How about other words, such as slit, crevice, split, cleft? –  Tim Jun 22 '11 at 23:19
    
@Tim, I will try to reformulate the question to address these as well. –  Joseph Weissman Jun 22 '11 at 23:22
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