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From Middle English totren, toteren, from earlier *tolteren (compare dialectal English tolter (to struggle, flounder); Scots tolter (unstable, wonky)), from Old English tealtrian (to totter, vacillate), from Proto-Germanic *taltrōną, a frequentative form of Proto-Germanic *taltōną (to sway, dangle, hesitate), from Proto-Indo-European *del-, *dul- (to shake, hesitate). Cognate with Dutch touteren (to tremble), Norwegian dialectal totra (to quiver, shake), North Frisian talt, tolt (unstable, shaky). Related to tilt.



totter (third-person singular simple present totters, present participle tottering, simple past and past participle tottered) (intransitive)

  1. To walk, move or stand unsteadily or falteringly; threatening to fall.
    The baby tottered from the table to the chair.
    The old man tottered out of the pub into the street.
    The car tottered on the edge of the cliff.
    • 2014 April 21, “Subtle effects”, in The Economist, volume 411, number 8884:
      Manganism has been known about since the 19th century, when miners exposed to ores containing manganese, a silvery metal, began to totter, slur their speech and behave like someone inebriated.
  2. (figuratively) To be on the brink of collapse.
    • 1610–1611, William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act III, scene ii], page 11:
      [] the folly of this Iland, they ſay there's but fiue vpon this Iſle ; we are three of them, if th' other two be brain'd like vs, the State totters.
  3. (archaic) To collect junk or scrap.


Derived terms[edit]



totter (plural totters)

  1. An unsteady movement or gait.
  2. (archaic) A rag and bone man.