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See also: Totter


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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. (figurative) To be on the brink of collapse.
    • 1610–1611 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [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.
    • 1941 December, Kenneth Brown, “The Newmarket & Chesterford Railway—II”, in Railway Magazine, page 533:
      By the latter part of 1848, the throne of Hudson the Railway King who had been called in in 1845 as a superman to save the Eastern Counties Railway, was tottering to its fall, [...].
  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.

Derived terms[edit]


Middle High German[edit]


totter m

  1. egg yolk, yolk
    • 13th century, Berthold von Regensburg, edited 1862 by Franz Pfeiffer:
      Diu erde, dâ diu werlt ûf stât, diu irret uns des sunnen, des nidern sunnen. Wan diu erde ist rehte geschaffen alse ein bal. [...] daz ist geschaffen als ein ei. Diu ûzer schale daz ist der himel den wir dâ sehen. Daz wîze al umbe den tottern daz sint die lüfte. Sô ist der totter enmitten drinne, daz ist diu erde.
    • 15th century, Das Kochbuch des Meisters Eberhard:
      • rurr es ab mit eyer totternn und wurcz es wol
      • und bestreich es wol mit totternn
      • Der totter hicziget bescheidenlich und speißt wol