wel·​ter | \ ˈwel-tər How to pronounce welter (audio) \
weltered; weltering\ ˈwel-​t(ə-​)riŋ How to pronounce welter (audio) \; welters

Definition of welter

 (Entry 1 of 3)

intransitive verb

1a : writhe, toss also : wallow
b : to rise and fall or toss about in or with waves
2 : to become deeply sunk, soaked, or involved
3 : to be in turmoil


noun (1)

Definition of welter (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : a state of wild disorder : turmoil
2 : a chaotic mass or jumble a bewildering welter of data


noun (2)

Definition of welter (Entry 3 of 3)

The History of Welter


Welter can be used both as a noun (meaning "turmoil" or "chaos") and a verb. The verb is the older of the two; it has been part of English since at least the 1300s, while the earliest uses of the noun date from the late 1590s. Both noun and verb have roots related to Dutch and Germanic terms meaning "to roll," and both have found a place in historical English literature. The verb helps demonstrate extreme despair in the early Arthurian legend Morte Arthure ("He welterys, he wristeles, he wrynges hys handes!"), and in 1837 Thomas Carlyle used the noun in The French Revolution ("I leave the whole business in a frightful welter: … not one of them understands anything of government").

First Known Use of welter


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Noun (1)

1596, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (2)

1900, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for welter


Middle English welteren, weltryn "to turn over, tumble, writhe, take unrestrained pleasure (in)," frequentative derivative of welten "to topple, overturn, fall over," by-form (perhaps from a Germanic weak verb *waltjan-) of walten "to turn over, upend, be overturned, cast, throw, surge," going back to Old English -wæltan (in gewæltan "to roll"), going back to a Germanic verbal base *walt-, *welt- "roll," found in a variety of attested formations (as Old English awyltan "to roll away," unwealt "steady," Middle High German walzen "to roll over," Old Icelandic velta [strong verb, intransitive] "to roll, roll over," velta [transitive] "to set rolling," Gothic waltjan "to surge against [of waves]," uswaltjan "to overturn"), going back to Indo-European *u̯el-d-, extended form of *u̯el(H)- "roll," whence, with various vowel grades and stem formations, Old Irish fillid "(s/he) bends, turns back" (< *u̯el-n-), Old Church Slavic valiti sę "to roll (intransitive)," Lithuanian veliù, vélti "to full (cloth), roll," Greek eiléō, eileîn "wind, turn round, roll up" (< *u̯el-né-), íllō, íllein in same sense (< *u̯i-u̯l-ō), Armenian glem "to roll"

Note: The Middle English verb is paralleled by Middle Dutch welteren and Middle Low German weltern, which Oxford English Dictionary, first edition, regards as the source of the English word. — Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben, 2. Auflage (Wiesbaden, 2001), enters two etyma, *u̯el- "to turn, roll" (drehen, rollen) and *u̯elH- "to roll, seethe" (wälzen, wallen), presumably on the grounds that Lithuanian vélti, with acute intonation, would suggest a laryngeal, while there is no suggestion of a laryngeal in Greek eiléō, etc. For present purposes, etyma with the meaning "seethe, bubble" are treated separately, under well entry 2. Also treated under *u̯el- in the Lexikon are verbs showing an extension with a semi-vowel, *u̯el-u̯-, which are covered here at wallow entry 1. Additionally, there are stems ending in a velar, *u̯el-k-/*u̯el-gh- "to roll"; these are covered here at walk entry 1. All of these elements, as well as many nominal formations, are treated as extensions of a single root *u̯el- in J. Pokorny, Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch.

Noun (1)

derivative of welter entry 1

Noun (2)

by shortening

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The first known use of welter was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Welter.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/welter. Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for welter


wel·​ter | \ ˈwel-tər How to pronounce welter (audio) \

Kids Definition of welter

: a confused jumble He had too much to think about and felt lost in the bewildering welter of his thoughts.— Linda Sue Park, A Single Shard

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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for welter

Nglish: Translation of welter for Spanish Speakers


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