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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Oct 31, 2012 11:58 pm

• kilter •

Pronunciation: kil-têr • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: Good condition, health, tune, or spirits.

Notes: Kilter is another word on its last leg that we would like to rescue from the lexical boneyard. We hear it today almost exclusively in the expression "out of kilter". However, the use of this Good Word is by no means limited to a single negative phrase.

In Play: Dr. Goodword is frequently asked, "If something is not out of kilter, is it 'in kilter'?" "Yes," is always the good doctor's answer: "Everyone at the party was in good kilter so the party was a great success." Anything that can be out of kilter can as well be in good kilter: "The choir is sounding better, but their music still isn't in perfect kilter."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a corruption of kelter, but a corruption that began in the middle of the 17th century, so there is little chance of going back now. Kelter is still preserved in some British dialects, but kilterclearly is favored today. The question is, then, where does kelter come from and the straightforward answer is that no one has the foggiest notion. No semantically related words resembling kelter can be found in English or any other language in its family. That leaves us with little more to say about this word except to thank Perry Dror for his contribution to keeping our Good Word series in high kilter by suggesting fascinating words like today's.
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David Myer
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Postby David Myer » Thu Nov 01, 2012 6:05 am

I love these. No idea of origin. What fun - it means we can conjecture ad nauseam without fear of contradiction.

I wonder about helter skelter. I guess there could be a connection. My dictionary also says this one is of unknown origin - but offers "perhaps from Middle English, SKELTE, to hasten".

It's a long shot, but...

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Postby tapoensgen » Thu Nov 01, 2012 7:19 am

I could speculate on an origin, where Kilter (and Kelter) may be derived from the German "Keltern" (trampling grapes in the winemaking process), which stems from the Latin calcare - treading or trampling. As trampling of feet is a rhythmic process, being "out of kilter" would suggest a state of being out of balance and vice versa for being "in kilter". It is not too big a leap towards being in good condition or tune.

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Postby LukeJavan8 » Thu Nov 01, 2012 5:37 pm

Glad you mentioned that,
because the only instance where I hear the word in
in the phrase: "out of kilter".
-----please, draw me a sheep-----

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