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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English stageren, stakeren, from Old Norse stakra (to push, stagger).[1] Cognate with dialectal Danish stagre.


stagger (plural staggers)

Tire stagger
  1. An unsteady movement of the body in walking or standing as if one were about to fall; a reeling motion.
    • 7 October 2012, Paolo Bandini in The Guardian, Denver Broncos 21 New England Patriots 31 - as it happened
      Put down the rosary beads folks, I believe hell may just have frozen over. Peyton Manning drops back, sees nothing open and runs for a first down. If you can call that running. More like the stagger of a wounded rhino. Did the job, though
    • 1861, Ellen Wood, chapter 39, in East Lynne:
      Afy slowly gathered in the sense of the words. She gasped twice, as if her breath had gone, and then, with a stagger and a shiver, fell heavily to the ground.
    the stagger of a drunken man
    • 1843 December 19, Charles Dickens, “(please specify the page number)”, in A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, London: Chapman & Hall, [], →OCLC:
      And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire; both hands to your partner, bow and courtesy, corkscrew, thread the needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig "cut"—cut so deftly that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.
  2. (veterinary medicine) A disease of horses and other animals, attended by reeling, unsteady gait or sudden falling.
    parasitic staggers
    apoplectic or sleepy staggers
  3. Bewilderment; perplexity.
  4. The spacing out of various actions over time.
  5. (motor racing) The difference in circumference between the left and right tires on a racing vehicle. It is used on oval tracks to make the car turn better in the corners.[2]
  6. (aviation) The horizontal positioning of a biplane, triplane, or multiplane's wings in relation to one another.


stagger (third-person singular simple present staggers, present participle staggering, simple past and past participle staggered)

  1. To sway unsteadily, reel, or totter.
    1. (intransitive) In standing or walking, to sway from one side to the other as if about to fall; to stand or walk unsteadily; to reel or totter.
      She began to stagger across the room.
      • 1697, Virgil, “Palamon and Arcite”, in John Dryden, transl., The Works of Virgil: Containing His Pastorals, Georgics, and Æneis. [], London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC:
        Deep was the wound; he staggered with the blow.
      • 2022 January 12, Benedict le Vay, “The heroes of Soham...”, in RAIL, number 948, page 43:
        The burnt and bleeding man staggered to his feet, dazed and unbelieving, and asked the startled townspeople who came running whether his fireman and guard were safe. He was kept away from the smouldering crater where his engine had been, and taken to hospital.
    2. (transitive) To cause to reel or totter.
      The powerful blow of his opponent's fist staggered the boxer.
    3. (intransitive) To cease to stand firm; to begin to give way; to fail.
      • 1708, Joseph Addison, The Present State of the War, and the Necessity of an Augmentation
      The enemy staggers.
  2. Doubt, waver, be shocked.
    1. (intransitive) To begin to doubt and waver in purposes; to become less confident or determined; to hesitate.
    2. (transitive) To cause to doubt and waver; to make to hesitate; to make less steady or confident; to shock.
      He will stagger the committee when he presents his report.
      • 1644, James Howell, England’s Teares, for the Present Wars, [], London: [] Richard Heron, →OCLC, page 6:
        [W]hoſoever vvill be curious to read the future ſtory of this intricate VVarre (if it be poſsible to compile a ſtory of it) he vvill find himſelfe much ſtagger'd, and put to a kind of riddle; []
      • 1796, Edmund Burke, A Letter from the Right Honourable Edmund Burke to a Noble Lord, on the Attacks Made upon Him and His Pension, [], 10th edition, London: [] J. Owen, [], and F[rancis] and C[harles] Rivington, [], →OCLC:
        Grants to the house of Russell were so enormous, as not only to outrage economy, but even to stagger credibility.
      • 1943 September and October, “Post-War London Terminals”, in Railway Magazine, page 257:
        Unless it is intended to divert much of the Southern suburban traffic underground, the size of the structure needed to handle all the Southern Railway suburban, outer suburban, and main-line traffic in one station staggers the imagination.
  3. (transitive) Have multiple groups doing the same thing in a uniform fashion, but starting at different, evenly spaced, times or places (attested from 1856[3]).
    1. To arrange (a series of parts) on each side of a median line alternately, as the spokes of a wheel or the rivets of a boiler seam.
    2. To arrange similar objects such that each is ahead or above and to one side of the next.
      We will stagger the starting positions for the race on the oval track.
    3. To schedule in intervals or at different times.
      We will stagger the run so the faster runners can go first, then the joggers.
      • 1962 September, “Talking of Trains: More commuters by rail”, in Modern Railways, page 154:
        The evening peak (5.30-5.45) is more concentrated than the morning (9–9.15), but it had not been intensified in the 12 months to last November; this is attributed by London Transport partly to efforts to persuade firms to stagger their hours.

Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

stag +‎ -er


stagger (plural staggers)

  1. (UK) One who attends a stag night.
    • 2013, Phil Hubbard, Cities and Sexualities, page 144:
      Tallinn no longer takes pride in the title of 'favourite destination of British staggers'.


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2024) “stagger”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. ^ Stock Car Racing magazine article on stagger, February 2009
  3. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2024) “stagger”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.