You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: pother

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:

POTHER

Back to business after a month of neglecting the words of the week while addressing one pother after another.

Pother (pronounced PAHTH-ur) is a chiefly British word meaning “agitation,” “a mental or emotional disturbance.” It is a relatively mild world, suggesting distraction and minor upset—something less intense than a brouhaha. But it has more vigorous antecedents.

It rose in English, of obscure origin, in the early seventeenth century, the OED tells us, meaning “disturbance,” “turmoil,” “tumult.” By the middle of the seventeenth century it had accumulated the sense of “verbal commotion,” or “blather,” and the “agitation” sense followed quickly on that.

There is also a verb: To pother is “to fluster” or “to make a fuss,” both senses from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Example: From “The Internet Turns 30” by R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., American Spectator, October 1999: “Better it would be if the intelligentsia moved beyond the old obsessions (about which they were usually in error — think of the Alger Hiss pother) and gave fresh thought to the wonder and subversion of the microchip.”

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