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Alternative forms[edit]


Probably from *palter (rag, trifle, worthless thing), from Middle Low German palter (rag, cloth). More at paltry.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈpɔːltə/, /ˈpɒltə/


palter (third-person singular simple present palters, present participle paltering, simple past and past participle paltered)

  1. To talk insincerely; to prevaricate or equivocate in speech or actions.
    • Shakespeare
      Romans, that have spoke the word, / And will not palter.
    • Tennyson
      Who never sold the truth to serve the hour, / Nor paltered with eternal God for power.
    • 1922, Michael Arlen, “2/4/1”, in “Piracy”: A Romantic Chronicle of These Days[1]:
      But, with a gesture, she put a period to this dalliance—one shouldn't palter so on an empty stomach, she might almost have said.
    • 2010, Stephen Fry, The Fry Chronicles
      I would prevaricate and palter in my usual plausible way, but, this being Cambridge, such stratagems would cut no ice with my remorseless and (in my imagination) gleefully malicious interrogator, who would stare at me with gimlet eyes and say in a harsh voice that crackled with mocking laughter: ‘Excuse me, but do you even know who Lermontov is?’
  2. (now rare) To trifle.
    • Beaumont and Fletcher
      Palter out your time in the penal statutes.
    • 1886, Henry James, The Princess Casamassima.
      He waited and waited, in the faith that Schinkel was dealing with them in his slow, categorical Teutonic way, and only objurgated the cabinetmaker for having in the first place paltered with his sacred trust. Why hadn't he come straight to him—whatever the mysterious document was—instead of talking it over with French featherheads?
    • 1922, Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room, Vintage Classics, paperback edition, page 100
      Don't palter with the second rate.
  3. To haggle.
    • 1611, Cotgrave, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, p. 738.
      Herceler. Voyez to haggle, to dodge. N.b. Cotgrave defines herceler/harceler by example: "to haggle, hucke, hedge, or paulter long in the buying of commodity".
    • Circa 1606, Shakespeare, Macbeth. Uses palter in two senses: to haggle and to prevaricate.
      And be these juggling fiends no more believed, That palter with us in a double sense; That keep the word of promise to our ear, And break it to our hope.
  4. To babble; to chatter.

Derived terms[edit]