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noun, plural (especially collectively) sil·ver·fish, (especially referring to two or more kinds or species) sil·ver·fish·es.
  1. a white or silvery goldfish, Carassius auratus.
  2. any of various other silvery fishes, as the tarpon, silversides, or shiner.
  3. a wingless, silvery-gray thysanuran insect, Lepisma saccharina, that feeds on starch, damaging books, wallpaper, etc.

Origin of silverfish

First recorded in 1695–1705; silver + fish
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for silverfish

Historical Examples

  • "All we ask is that you obey our instructions," returned the silverfish.

    Glinda of Oz

    L. Frank Baum

  • A silverfish then raised its head beside that of the goldfish, and a moment later a bronzefish lifted its head beside the others.

    Glinda of Oz

    L. Frank Baum

  • The one who had been a silverfish had snow-white hair of the finest texture and deep brown eyes.

    Glinda of Oz

    L. Frank Baum

  • Rapid fire legs sidestep the etchings of industrious ants while silverfish are the boatmen trouncing human oars.

    The Land of Look Behind

    Paul Cameron Brown

British Dictionary definitions for silverfish


noun plural -fish or -fishes
  1. a silver variety of the goldfish Carassius auratus
  2. any of various other silvery fishes, such as the moonfish Monodactylus argenteus
  3. any of various small primitive wingless insects of the genus Lepisma, esp L. saccharina, that have long antennae and tail appendages and occur in buildings, feeding on food scraps, bookbindings, etc: order Thysanura (bristletails)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for silverfish


1703, in reference to various types of silver-colored fish (cf. German Silberfisch, Dutch zilvervisch); from silver + fish (n.). In reference to a type of household insect damaging to books, wallpaper, etc. (also known as silvertail and furniture-bug), it is attested from 1855.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

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