Printable Version
Pronunciation: wel-tÍr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. A roiling, tumultuous state, confusion, turmoil. 2. A jumble, a confused mass of things.

Notes: Today's word still may be used as a verb meaning "wallowing, twisting and turning", as in 'The boat weltered helplessly in the stormy waters.' The verb also meant at one time "to beat until welts rise on the body". It is possible that the boxing class, welterweight, took its name from this verbal use. The present participle, weltering, serves as adjective and noun.

In Play: In 1863 John Greenleaf Whittier used the original meaning of today's word in his poem, Andrew Rykman's Prayer, "In the welter of this sea | Nothing stable is but Thee." Today it is used mostly in its figurative sense, "Reingold found himself slowly drowning in a welter of obligations."

Word History: Today's word came to us from Middle English welteren "to roll, to toss about (as in high seas)" from Middle Low German or Middle Dutch welteren "to roll." Now it is a noun referring to the results of being tossed about. The Proto-Indo-European ancestor of today's word, *wel-/*wol- "to turn, roll," was highly prolific. The German verb walzen "to roll" is a descendant, as is the English word waltz and wallow. Whelk, referring to the American conch, and welt are also descendants. Old English wealcan "to roll, toss," another relative, reached us as walk. Volume in the literary sense originally referred to a roll of writing. It comes from the Latin variant of this root, seen in volvere "to roll", and is found elsewhere in convolute, involve, and revolve. Finally, Russian volna "wave" and Czech/Slovak vlna "wave; wool" bubbled up from the same source. (We are happy to roll out a suggestion submitted long ago by Ann Schroder as today's extremely Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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