SLITHER, n.--another word with two (or 1.5) mommies?

Brenda Lester alphatwin2002 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Oct 7 19:04:38 UTC 2013

splinter; shiver, slice


 From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Sent: Monday, October 7, 2013 1:45 PM
Subject: SLITHER, n.--another word with two (or 1.5) mommies?

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Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Subject:      SLITHER, n.--another word with two (or 1.5) mommies?

From an online recipe (see antepenultimate recipe at

1 inch fresh ginger, grated or sliced into thin slithers

[+ Many other hits for "into (thin) slithers" from other recipes]

I thought this might be a reanalysis of one type or another ("sliver" under influence of snakes), but if so it seems to have happened awhile ago, back to old Ezra.  Here's the OED entry for SLITHER, n., 4b):

Something smooth and slippery; a smoothly sliding mass; = SLIVER n.1 1.

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.
1955   N. Nicholson Lakers xi. 188   Only after rain, when..the rocks are hung with slithers of water like lace curtains against the black slate.
1966   G. Greene Comedians i. v. 153   Little fenced saucers of earth where a few palm-trees grew and slithers of water gleamed between.
1981   Daily Tel. 27 May 15/1   Calvin Klein's newest dress is a slither of silk shaped simply like an overgrown T-shirt.

None of these are quite the same as the slither of ginger, and I certainly couldn't imagine referring to a "sliver" of water.  "Slithers" of dyed stuff or slippery silk might be nonce nominalizations from the verb or adjective (many hits for "slithery silk").  But "slither of ginger"?  Maybe I've just led a sheltered life (as has the AHD, which only has "slithery movement or gait" for SLITHER, n.).

Or perhaps the vector is the slither of eel, as in:

The same goes for the unagi, which contains delicately marinated slithers of eel.
Smoked eel, carrot and camomile – laid upon a sweet smear of carrot are slithers of eel that are succulent, smoky and a little peppery.


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