Definition of totter in English:



  • 1 Move in a feeble or unsteady way.

    ‘a hunched figure tottering down the path’
    • ‘Behind them another three girls, only slightly older, are tottering unsteadily to and from the bar in high-heels, serving beers to the largely local clientele.’
    • ‘Seventy-nine-year-old Marie totters in, held up by two of the crew.’
    • ‘Only barely invigorated by government policy, the economy totters towards the precipice.’
    • ‘Making sure no one saw her in such a weakened state, she tottered slowly toward her room.’
    • ‘The tea-towel-wearing shepherd totters on stage, blurts his lines and joins an angelic chorus in singing Little Donkey.’
    • ‘I watch, with my heart in my mouth, as Norman totters along the walkway but ironically, this time, it is not the Yorkshireman who has a problem but a strapping 25-year-old Swede who can go no further because of vertigo.’
    • ‘Waiting in line, the most original force in modern hip-hop vanishes into his surroundings as his girlfriend totters at his side. Nobody seems to recognise him.’
    • ‘I have seen legends totter across stages, forget their lines, prove themselves incapable of holding a tune.’
    • ‘Moving faster than she had thought he could, he tottered out of the room, and seconds later, another set of doors burst open and boys began flooding in.’
    • ‘Her brown eyes were three times magnified and bobbed around behind the octagonal glass like dying goldfish, staring me down as she tottered down the aisle to the bathroom for the seventeenth time.’
    • ‘In fact, as the team tottered into town late on Wednesday afternoon, its members didn't look at all like the healthy young athletes who had left Mountain Village on Sunday.’
    • ‘After a while the passenger door opened, and an elderly lady tottered out.’
    • ‘We could see, for instance, the doddering old knights and dames of the order tottering in (none of them a day below 70 I'm sure) in procession.’
    • ‘A very old woman, bent in half and tottering on crippled legs, slowly and painfully pushed her own empty wheelchair.’
    • ‘With enough blood collected a young warrior caked the wound with fresh dung and the animal was released to totter away on unsteady legs but otherwise unharmed.’
    • ‘Adding to his already battered pride, he tottered back into the bedroom on unsteady matchstick legs, attempting to regain maybe a little of his lost composure.’
    • ‘Usually bedecked in a powder-blue suit, she totters down the steps of one ancient pile with the purpose of opening another crumbling edifice a short limousine drive away.’
    • ‘With her lowered head and stooped shoulders, she totters across the stage.’
    • ‘When the doors eventually open and the audience - no exaggeration - totter in, the candidate had moved next door, leaving only a whiff of cigar smoke hanging in the air.’
    • ‘Peter knew many weren't happy with the decision, and he watched with apprehension as one of the most elderly men in the village tottered up to the platform to speak.’
    teeter, walk unsteadily, stagger, wobble, stumble, dodder, shuffle, shamble, falter, reel, toddle, hobble, sway, roll, lurch
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    1. 1.1(of a building) shake or rock as if about to collapse.
      ‘tottering, gutted houses’
      • ‘It resembled a rectangular crown, a small tottering tower of points and bars rising from the camel's back.’
      • ‘The building was tottering on the brink of falling in on itself.’
      • ‘My diligent inspection of every single isolated bay, every last tottering Spanish tower had been observed by both the customs posts and the hashish smuggling gangs with wry detachment.’
      • ‘The building exploits the drama of this interlocked matrix of mass and light as stepped ramps zigzag through the atrium, revealing the sheer concrete wall and the great tottering stack of galleries.’
      • ‘Spectators trained digital cameras and cellphone cameras on the structure and waited as huge cracks appeared and the building tottered.’
      • ‘‘I've no time for garnishes or tottering towers,’ he says.’
      • ‘Is that tottering mass of concrete really a clothes shop?’
      • ‘Eventually, the next bend reveals a stand of huts, tottering on stilts sunk in the muddy wastes of the lapping river.’
      • ‘The city tumbles down the steep slopes to the river's edge where it coalesces into a raffish assortment of bars, cafes and restaurants housed in tottering waterfront terraces.’
      shake, sway, tremble, quiver, teeter, shudder, judder, rock, quake, reel, lurch
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    2. 1.2Be insecure or about to fail.
      ‘the pharmaceutical industry has tottered from crisis to crisis’
      • ‘All three pillars of the global economy have not tottered simultaneously for a decade.’
      • ‘Its various schools, once strongly entrenched at numerous clan capitals throughout the country, were now tottering on the brink of ruin.’
      • ‘The fragile banking industry is tottering, and the enormous level of foreign investment China has enjoyed over the past decade is under threat.’
      • ‘It could all leave the troubled Ice Hockey Superleague tottering on the brink with just five teams left.’
      • ‘The symbols of American capitalism and military imperialism have been struck from the skies, the financial markets have been spun into chaos, and the global economy has been sent tottering to the brink of recession.’
      • ‘Despite all its natural resources and the natural resilience of its many peoples, Africa is a continent that totters on the edge of disaster as war, famine, disease, greed and corruption threaten to overwhelm it.’
      • ‘These books examine notions of government and justice in post-colonial times and throw some light on why some Pacific nations seemingly totter from one crisis to another.’
      • ‘Buffeted by violent economic crises and challenged by powerful socialist movements that seemed everywhere on the move, the system often seemed to totter.’
      • ‘Empires may totter, armies may battle, politicians may plot, but it is family relations which provide the most dramatic material.’
      • ‘Or, say the liberals, we waste our money on video games and trashy novels while the fine arts totter on the brink of extinction.’
      • ‘The empire itself would totter on for a few more decades, but Rome would never be the same.’
      • ‘When her side was tottering on the brink of defeat it was her powers of persuasion which lifted them that one vital step.’
      • ‘The film is a fabulous concoction and shows the Islamic world tottering on the brink of an abyss.’
      • ‘It's a piece that totters constantly on the brink of self-parody, but Webley attacks it with such savage gusto that it ends up being an album stand-out.’
      • ‘On the eve of his fateful appointment as chancellor, his party was tottering on the brink of disintegration.’
      • ‘If we aren't careful and prudent it could be that the club finds itself in the horrible predicament it found itself last season, when the club tottered on the brink of extinction.’
      • ‘‘The pressing concern of the moment is how to prevent Lebanon from tottering over the brink of the abyss,’ said the English-language Daily Star.’
      • ‘The pull of these cities have been such that all of them are gradually becoming very densely populated, tottering almost on the brink of a demographic disaster.’
      • ‘Today that average price totters at a toweringly daft £94,000.’
      • ‘It is this rebirth and destruction that keeps the balance and saves the universe from tottering over the brink of destruction.’
      be unstable, be unsteady, be shaky, be insecure, be precarious, be on the point of collapse, falter
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  • [in singular] A feeble or unsteady gait.

    • ‘Call it a slight totter in an approximately forward direction if you must but it feels like a giant leap to me.’
    • ‘You may say that none of this sounds like a leap forward, more like a totter backwards.’


Middle English: from Middle Dutch touteren to swing (the original sense in English).