out of kilter

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From out of + kilter, kelter ((good) condition, form, or order; fettle). The latter word is of uncertain origin, but appears widely in British dialect[1] and also in the United States.[2]


Prepositional phrase[edit]

out of kilter

  1. (idiomatic) Askew, disturbed; not adjusted or working properly; out of order.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:out of order
    I stayed up late to watch a movie, and my entire sleeping schedule has been out of kilter ever since.
    • 1762, [Susan Smythies], “Presents the Reader with a Prospect of the Sullens”, in The Stage-coach: Containing the Character of Mr. Manly, and the History of His Fellow Travellers, Dublin: Printed by Henry Saunders [], OCLC 510549181, page 140:
      Aye, ſquire, that thing [a statue of Hercules] has been fixt in this ſpot I warrant you theſe hundred years; it was ſadly out of kilter when I came to the eſtate, but I got my neighbour the conſtable, who is a carpenter, to make him that right arm, and put the ſtaff into it, for I could not bear to ſee ſuch a clumſy log as he had in it before; [...]
    • 1851 May 29, Sojourner Truth; reported by Frances D[ana] Gage, “Ohio [Reminiscences by Frances D. Gage. Sojourner Truth. [Ain’t I a Woman?]]”, in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, editors, History of Woman Suffrage. [...] In Three Volumes, volume I (1848–1861), Rochester, N.Y.; London: Susan B. Anthony; Charles Mann [], published 1887, OCLC 10703030, page 116:
      Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' kilter. I thik dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon.
    • 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.
    • 1941 March 10, “An Airliner Cracks Up in Pine Woods near Atlanta and Seven People Die”, in Henry R[obinson] Luce, editor, Life, volume 10, number 10, Chicago, Ill.; New York, N.Y.: Time Inc., ISSN 0024-3019, OCLC 34142982, photograph caption, page 27:
      Snowstorms often knock the Government's Salt Lake radio range out of kilter.
    • 2018 June 17, Barney Ronay, “Mexico’s Hirving Lozano stuns world champions Germany for brilliant win”, in Katharine Viner, editor, The Guardian[1], London: Guardian News & Media, ISSN 0261-3077, OCLC 229952407:
      This was a champion team out of kilter, stung by what was arguably an act of disrespect to their opponents, a failure to appreciate their threat and the fine planning of Carlos Osorio, and never really able to regain its balance.

Usage notes[edit]

The term is often preceded by throw, as in “an impact can throw the adjustment out of kilter”.

Alternative forms[edit]

Related terms[edit]



  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. ^ kelter, kilter, n.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1901; “kilter, n.” in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press.