Swither is such a delicious word. It conveys its meaning with perfection. It has a swooning, sweeping quality that summons up the feeling that everyone experiences occasionally – hesitation, indecision, doubt, to be perplexed as what to do. It has an Edward Lear sensibility that sits happily alongside the best of his wordplay. For this reason it is our #wonderword of the week.
Its etymological origin is a little vague but placed sometime in the early sixteenth century. British but more commonplace in Scotland where it has become a beloved word.
According to The Bottle Imp ¹ e-zine, written and maintained by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, “swither” is given full and loving treatment as the “Scots Word of the Season” in their fifth issue. According to Maggie Scott, a lecturer in English at the University of Salford:
“The origins of ‘swither’ are unclear, although connection with an Old English verb of similar form and meaning has been suggested. Besides faltering or hesitation, the word can also indicate fluctuation or fitful movement, and the Dictionary of the Scots Language records a number of instances of swithering cloud formations and unstable markets.”
And just as good are the words that rhyme with swither. Blither, hither, dither, slither, zither, whither, wither!
¹ The Bottle Imp is named for a short story written by Robert Louis Stevenson, of which an online version can be downloaded here.