• dither •
Part of Speech: Noun, verb
Meaning: 1. [Noun] A state of agitated indecision, nervously wavering in the face of different courses of action. 2. [Verb] To act in an agitated, nervous, indecisive manner. 3. [Verb, electronic music and graphics] To smudge, blend, or fade, to add intermediate colors between the edges of a graphic object and its background to hide the jagged edges made by square pixels forming a rounded line, or to add random sound to minimize distortion in a sound file.
Notes: Although today's Good Word started out meaning simply "to shake, vibrate", today it refers mostly to a 'vibrating' (agitated) psychological state. When we are in a dither, we are in a nervous, agitated state caused by an inability to reach a decision, which is to say, when we are dithering. This word is related to diddle, daddle, toddle, totter, and those mentioned in today's Word History, but all were created off the radar and not by regular rules we can trace.
In Play: We probably use today's word more as a noun than a verb: "Ethyl Gass was in a dither over which car she should drive to her high school reunion." It does work just as well as a verb, though: "Ferris Weal was dithering over which table to sit at when Corliss walked out of the restaurant muttering under her breath."
Word History: Today's Good Word was originally spelled and pronounced with a D rather than a TH in the middle: didder. It arrived in English in the 14th century, from where, no one knows. In all probability it was an onomatopoetic creation, the repeated [d] sounds reflecting the movement of a vibrating or shaking object. By the 17th century an alternative pronunciation, diddle, had arisen in parallel with didder with the same meaning, giving us three words, didder, diddle, and dither from the same source. Each then set out on its own course giving us what we have today in these words. (Lest we leave Jeanne Henry in a dither, let us heartily thank her for suggesting today's very Good Word.)
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