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Probably representing Middle English *sputren, *sputrien, a frequentative form of Middle English sputen (to spout, vomit), equivalent to spout +‎ -er. Cognate with Saterland Frisian spüttern (to inject, spray, splash), West Frisian sputterje (to sputter), Dutch sputteren (to sputter), Low German sputtern, spruttern (to sprinkle), German sprudeln (to spout, squirt). Compare splutter.



sputter (countable and uncountable, plural sputters)

  1. Moist matter thrown out in small detached particles.
  2. Confused and hasty speech.


sputter (third-person singular simple present sputters, present participle sputtering, simple past and past participle sputtered)

  1. (intransitive) To emit saliva or spit from the mouth in small, scattered portions, as in rapid speaking.
    • 1869 May, Anthony Trollope, “Lady Milborough as Ambassador”, in He Knew He Was Right, volume I, London: Strahan and Company, [], →OCLC, page 87:
      The child [...] kicked, and crowed, and sputtered, when his mother took him, and put up his little fingers to clutch her hair, and was to her as a young god upon the earth. Nothing in the world had ever been created so beautiful, so joyous, so satisfactory, so divine!
  2. (transitive, intransitive) To speak so rapidly as to emit saliva; to utter words hastily and indistinctly, with a spluttering sound, as in rage.
    • 1700, William Congreve, The Way of the World:
      They could neither of them speak their rage, and so fell a sputtering at one another, like two roasting apples.
    • 1730, Jonathan Swift, A Vindication of Lord Carteret:
      In the midst of caresses, and without the least pretended incitement, to sputter out the basest and falsest accusations.
  3. (transitive, intransitive) To throw out anything, as little jets of steam, with a noise like that made by one sputtering.
    • 1692, John Dryden, Cleomenes, the Spartan Hero, a Tragedy:
      Like the green wood [...] sputtering in the flame.
  4. (physics, intransitive) To cause surface atoms or electrons of a solid to be ejected by bombarding it with heavy atoms or ions.
  5. (physics, transitive) To coat the surface of an object by sputtering.

Derived terms[edit]

all parts of speech


See also[edit]