walking unsteadily or shakily.
lacking security or stability; threatening to collapse; precarious: a tottering empire.

Origin of tottering

Related formstot·ter·ing·ly, adverbun·tot·ter·ing, adjective



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 tottering

Contemporary Examples of tottering

Historical Examples of tottering

  • Our Union is tottering to its foundation, and slavery is the cause.

  • I went downstairs trembling, tottering, and my teeth chattering.

    My Double Life

    Sarah Bernhardt

  • It had taken this news from the harbor to bring him tottering, crashing down.

    The Harbor

    Ernest Poole

  • He was not about to throw himself headlong from the summit of the tottering wall.

    Barnaby Rudge

    Charles Dickens

  • The commercial and moral fabric of European civilization is tottering.

British Dictionary definitions for tottering


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 tottering



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