Heckle, Jekyll, and pleats

What is kilter, and why am I out of it? I had plenty of AA Energizers to replace the thermostat batteries, but the temperature sensor still seems out of whack. It's quite comfortable in the condo, but the thermostat is displaying the temp as 80 degrees.

The expression "off-kilter" uses the word kilter, which means "good condition". To be off-kilter is to be faulty. The word is first seen in the 1630's and 40's, as the English word kelter. Other than this, the origin is unknown. The related expression "out of kilter" indicates being way into disorder and confusion, and does NOT mean dancing without one's pleated skirt! You can be thrown out of kilter, and you can be thrown out of some bars for dancing on a table without your skirt, whether or not you have tattoos. It's a Tricki-Woo world!

Maybe kelter is kin to helter and skelter, hurly-burly, harum-scarum, and pell-mell. They all appeared in English usage in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to express uncontrolled motion and direction.

My preschool girl students are on-kilter, not off. Pleated skirts seem to be their new favorite style. Most of their pleated skirts are skorts with built-in shorts. The term skort is much more recent than helter, kelter, or skelter. Part culotte and part miniskirt, skorts were a huge improvement on bloomer gymsuits for active females beginning in the 1960s.

Since the Buick went cracker-dog and flop-bott this weekend, I don't want the air conditioner to be out of whack. Out of whack means confused and not working as it should, although I'm still unclear about the origin of whack. Whatever it is, I bet I can't afford the repairs right now!

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

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