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A variant of dialectal kelter (good condition, order), of uncertain origin.[1][2]



kilter (countable and uncountable, plural kilters)

  1. (usually in the negative) Alternative form of kelter ((good) condition, form, or order; fettle) [from 17th c.]
    not in kilter
    • 1890, Charles Erskine, chapter V, in Twenty Years before the Mast: [], Boston, Mass.: Published by the author, OCLC 13815425, page 72:
      [T]hey are either round-shouldered, knock-kneed, bow-legged, or parrot-toed; some are also badly cross-eyed. It seems as if they can see two different ways at the same time. Jack says they are lop-sided
 and out of kilter altogether.
    • 1909, Robert W[illiam] Service, “The Man from Eldorado”, in Ballads of a Cheechako, Toronto, Ont.: William Briggs, OCLC 2068144, part I, stanza 2, page 71:
      [H]e lived on tinned tomatoes, beef embalmed and sourdough bread, / On rusty beans and bacon furred with mould; / His stomach’s out of kilter and his system full of lead, / But it's over, and his poke is full of gold.
  2. Alternative form of kelter (a bad hand of cards in a game)

Alternative forms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • kilter” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2020.


  1. ^ “KELTER, sb.1 and v.1” in Joseph Wright, editor, The English Dialect Dictionary: [], volume III (H–L), London: Published by Henry Frowde, [], publisher to the English Dialect Society, []; New York, N.Y.: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1902, →OCLC, page 415, column 2
  2. ^ Compare “kelter, kilter, n.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1901; “kilter, n.” in Lexico,; Oxford University Press.