• dodder •
Pronunciation: dah-dêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive
Meaning: 1. To walk with an unsteady gait, as if from old age or other frailty, to shuffle, teeter, totter, hobble. 2. To move forward feebly and unsteadily; to muddle, stumble.
Notes: Doddering is associated with the elderly, because our sense of balance deteriorates with time. This is caused, as I understand it, by the crystallization of the fluid in the inner ear. Someone who dodders is a dodderer, the shuffling of whom is known as doddering.
In Play: As I grow older, I try consciously to avoid doddering, but the word occurred to me today because I caught myself doing just that. I don't want the most common expression employing today's Good Word applied to me: "The doddering old fool put his pants on backwards today." (I haven't done that yet.) The second meaning seems to have escaped the editors of most English dictionaries: "The committee keeps doddering along with its planning for the new parking lot."
Word History: We have so much evidence of the history of this word, it leaves the head spinning. This history is strewn with spinoffs, words that are like dodder, all of whose derivational origins are in question. Apparently, the word was taken from Middle Dutch touteren "to waver, totter, swing", or touter "a swing". However, the origin of the Dutch word is clouded in mystery. Is totter a mispronunciation of dodder or vice versa? Does the word come from tot or toddle, also an unsteady walk? Did dodder produce doddle, which ended up dawdle in this order? Or is doddle a mispronunciation of toddle? See what I mean? This word has been around so long, mispronounced so much, picking up so many different meanings along the way, that it leads etymologists in circles within circles within circles.