to stand or move in a way that is not steady and makes you seem about to fall
Origin and usage
The word teeter is likely derived from the Old Norse word ‘titra’ meaning ‘to totter, tremble’. It first appeared in English in 1843, but it wasn’t until 1844 that the word teeter came to mean ‘move unsteadily, on the edge of imbalance’.
Teeter is a word that describes a way of standing or moving that is shaky or off-balance. Often, things (or people) that teeter very soon fall over.
A common figure of speech is ‘teeter on the edge’ or ‘teeter on the brink’. These phrases explain the experience of being very close to doing something or facing some expected event. A country can be ‘teetering on the brink of war’ or a business could be ‘teetering on the edge of disaster’.
In literal terms, however, there are plenty of instances where things – like homes, for example – teeter on an actual edge.
Erosion along many coastlines has worn away land that once held homes. Now, these homes teeter on the brink of cliffs or sand dunes. In areas prone to flooding, houses and buildings may teeter on the banks of a river that has grown in size due to heavy rains. Landslides, which often occur after long periods of rain, can suddenly remove large areas of once-flat land from the tops and sides of mountains or hills, leaving homes teetering on the edge of a dramatically changing landscape.
“It’s haunting to realise that half of the languages of the world are teetering on the brink of extinction.”
“Life has taught me to be very cautious of a man with a dream, especially a man who has teetered on the edge of life. It gives a fire and recklessness inside that is hard to quantify.”