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While reading a book, I came across this sentence:

[...], finishing with a slither of lemon tart or apple cake.

Looking up the word slither I didn't get any satisfying results.

On OALD I found the definition of "to slither" which means to move forwards either in a smooth way (to slide) or uncontrolled (to glide).

In the given sentence this would only make sense if it's about how smooth this lemon tart goes down the gullet. But I don't think that it is meant like this. Moreover, wouldn't it be "a slithering lemon tart"?!

Thinking about the sentence and what it could be I'm assuming that it could mean "a part of", but I don't find any proof.

So, which is the correct meaning of "a slither of" and which words are best synonyms for it?

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    Rather than stick my oar in on the extended debate under Matt's (IMHO totally correct and exhaustive) answer, I'll just say here that so far as I'm concerned, it's an eggcorn - probably used unwittingly by many, but deliberately by a few. I can't find a written instance of a slither of ripe camembert cheese, for example - but that would strike me as creative writing rather than ignorance. Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 18:42
  • @FumbleFingers: No one has mentioned any kind of reason why one might make such an eggcorn (if it can be labeled such; I think it can). I would hazard that it's actually hypercorrection in Estuary English, -th-fronting a medial or final dental fricative to a bilabial fricative, voiced in this instance, like 'bruvver' for 'brother'. And since 'sliver' sounds like fronting is going on, it is hypercorrected back to the wrong 'sliver'.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 26, 2012 at 1:32
  • As always, verbs can be nouned and vice versa. Slither is a member of the SL- phonosemantic class of English simplex words, which features three largely overlapping semantic features: (1) liquid/solid interface (sloop, slather, sleek, sluice); (2) two-dimensional contact (slalom, slate, slope); and (3) pejoratives formed from such contacts (slattern, slave, slouch, sleazy, slum). Together these make up about 84% of the words and their meanings. Words of a feather flock together. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 16:57

2 Answers 2

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This is a misspelling of sliver

any small, narrow piece or portion

So a slither of lemon tart or apple cake really means a sliver of lemon tart or apple cake. It is implying a thin slice of the cake or pie.

Apparently this mistake has made it into common parlance, as attested by this entry from oxforddictionaries.com

Slither noun - a sliver

As we can see from the origin of slither

O.E. slidrian "to slide on a loose slope," a frequentative form of slidan "to slide" (see slide). Meaning "to walk in a sliding manner" is attested from 1848. In ref. to reptile motion, attested from 1839. Related: Slithered; slithering.

when compared to the origin of sliver

late 14c., from obsolete verb sliven "to split, cleave," from O.E. toslifan "to split, cleave," from P.Gmc. *slifanan.

They are not related. It isn't until the beginning of the 1900s that slither appears where sliver should, in writing.

"slither of" vs "sliver of" NGram

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    @Kris That quote is from someone who was apparently kicked out of school because she spent all her time at nightclubs and never did her grammar homework: veronicahenry.co.uk/biog.html
    – user13141
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 11:59
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    See noun 2 a sliver: a slither of bacon
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 12:04
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    That’s not the OED; rather, this is the OED entry for the noun slither. Sense 4b is: ‘Something smooth and slippery; a smoothly sliding mass; = sliver n.1’. The first citation for sense 4b is: ‘1919 E. Pound Quia Pauper Amavi 40 — If she goes in a gleam of Cos, in a slither of dyed stuff, There is a volume in the matter.’ Another citation is: ‘1981 Daily Tel. 27 May 15/1 — Calvin Klein’s newest dress is a slither of silk shaped simply like an overgrown T-shirt.’ I do not think it is always a typo.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 13:35
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    @MattЭллен Sorry I typo’d typo into type. I can’t see anything in the OED’s slither that suggests it’s a typo for sliver. It gives a cogent historical use as a noun deriving from the verb to mean something smooth, slippery, and sliding. Sense 4a is ‘A slipping or sliding. Also transf. and fig.’ 1st cit is ‘1861 Trollope Tales of all Countries 67 — Then there was a great slither, and an exclamation, and the noise of a fall.’ It’s sense 4b (which I previously gave) that lists sliver as a synonym. I think the noun slither has its own legit history apart from a mere typo. See?
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 14:03
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    @z7sgѪ: I'd prefer to say that 'surely the free online dictionary doesn't contradict the OED'. Surely there's something to be said for precedence and prestige.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 16:52
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It's hard to tell without knowing the source, but while Matt is certainly correct that a "sliver" would be more conventional, and that it could be an eggcorn or mis-spelling -- it's also entirely possible that it is deliberate.

A poet or a creative writer will often use words that outside their expected context, to sneak meaning and emotion in.

A delicately made lemon tart filling will indeed slither down your throat, and to describe your dessert as a "slither of lemon tart" gives the reader that sense.

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