verb (used without object)

to walk or go with faltering steps, as if from extreme weakness.
to sway or rock on the base or ground, as if about to fall: The tower seemed to totter in the wind. The government was tottering.
to shake or tremble: a load that tottered.


the act of tottering; an unsteady movement or gait.

Origin of totter

1150–1200; Middle English toteren to swing < ?
Related formstot·ter·er, noun

Synonyms for totter

1. See stagger. 2. waver. 3. oscillate, quiver. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for totter

Contemporary Examples of totter

  • His cheeks bright red, his chin wet with spittle, the helot would weave and stagger and totter until he passed out in the dirt.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Persian Fire and Rubicon (Full)

    David Frum

    September 23, 2012

  • In the long run, the regime might indeed begin to totter: This is the entire point.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Iran and the Sanctions Trap

    Stephen L. Carter

    July 31, 2011

Historical Examples of totter

British Dictionary definitions for totter


verb (intr)

to walk or move in an unsteady manner, as from old age
to sway or shake as if about to fall
to be failing, unstable, or precarious


the act or an instance of tottering
Derived Formstotterer, nountottering, adjectivetotteringly, adverbtottery, adjective

Word Origin for totter

C12: perhaps from Old English tealtrian to waver, and Middle Dutch touteren to stagger
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for totter

c.1200, "swing to and fro," perhaps from a Scandinavian source (cf. dialectal Norwegian totra "to quiver, shake"). Meaning "stand or walk with shaky, unsteady steps" is from c.1600. Related: Tottered; tottering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper