v. (past)


(Modern English falter)


Objections have been raised to the various suggestions put forth (see esp. Simpson 1981: 303) and all remain somewhat speculative: (1) Theories that PDE falter developed as a frequentative on fault (e.g. Skeat, reasonably discounted by OED) or fold (i.e. OE fealdan) (OED, repeated by ODEE) have met with little favour. (2) Some connection with an ON v. represented by OIcel faltra-sk ‘to be cumbered’ is usually preferred. It is taken unproblematically as the source of the ME by some (thus TGD, GDS, McGee 327, Nagano 1966: 62 (and the only point of comparison given in MED)). The OIcel word is attested only once (and late), but it survives into modern Icel and it is generally considered to be related to (by Ablaut variant of the same root) Far fjaltra and Norw fjaltra, fjoltra (both describing shaking or other involuntary or irregular movements). Simpson argues against the existence of such an ON word, suggesting instead input from the better attested VAN *feltra-, although this word is less compatible with the phonology of ME falteren. Whether from an otherwise unattested VAN v. (derived on the a-grade of the same root as *feltra-) or a cognate native form not recorded in OE (in which case ON derivation becomes much more unliklely), *falt-ran- must be reconstructed as etymon for the ME v.

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *falþ-; (2) *faltra-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

 faltra-sk ‘to be cumbered’
(ONP faltra (vb.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

Icel faltrast

OE Cognate

(1) cp. fealdan 'to fold, wrap up, furl, entangle'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Cited by MED only six times (three times from N texts, twice from EAngl. and once from Chaucer) before becoming more widespread in the 16c., the word's limited early attestation may give a false impression of dial restriction in ME (McGee 491).

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 430


MED falteren (v.) , OED falter (v.1) , HTOED , ODEE falter, Dance faltered; (1) Seebold falþ-a-, Orel *falþanan, Kroonen *falþan-, AEW fealdan, DOE fealdan, MED fōlden (v.2), OED fold (v.); (2) de Vries faltrast, Mag. faltrast, Torp NnEO fjalla (2) (fjaltra)