Out of kilter

Posted by ESC on September 02, 2002

In Reply to: Out of kilter posted by TheFallen on September 02, 2002

: : I believe this is an engineering term used to describe something which isnt working as precisly as it should because its out of alignment - but whats a "kilter"?

: Kilter (and apparently kelter too as a rarer alternative) simply means good condition, or proper working order. Its origins are unknown, according to all the sources I've checked - there is a verb "kilt", meaning "to tuck up", but it's a little far-fetched to presume that this might have something to do with it. Making sure all the ends of one's ropes and pulleys are neatly fastened down or tucked away so that they don't get caught in the workings of some machine? I doubt it.

OUT OF KILTER - " Many have tried to explain the origins of 'kilter' in this expression meaning to be out of order, out of whack, but no one has succeeded. The best suggestions I think are the 'kilter,' meaning a 'useless hand in cards,' the dialect 'kilt,' to make neat,' and the Dutch 'keelter, 'stomach,' because stomachs are often 'out of order' with digestion problems. We only know that the expression is first recorded in 1643, as 'kelter.'" From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).