What is the origin of pother (meaning commotion/uproar)?

Almost all dictionaries I've on hand have nothing substantial (they mostly cite "of unknown origin") to say on this score.

Etymonline goes a little bit further in this regard, but what's offered as etymology of the word doesn't sound entirely convincing:

1590s, "disturbance, commotion," a word of unknown origin. Meaning "mental trouble" is from 1640s; verb sense of "to fluster" is attested from 1690s. According to OED originally rhyming with other, brother; the pronunciation shift came in 19c. by influence of bother.

So, could anyone shed some light on the origins of pother?

  • 1
    In addition to the link, you can cut and paste some of the text at etymonline as fair use. This would make your question self-contained.
    – Mitch
    Jan 13, 2022 at 13:32
  • 1
    My mother, who came from Herefordshire, used to talk about an agitated person as being "all in a puther" (rather than pother) and I never came across the word anywhere else until I encountered a version of the folk song "Marrow Bones" collected in the same sort of area which includes the line "He has taken a puthering prop and pushed her farther in". I took a "puthering prop" to be a long stirring stick of some sort. I wonder whether "puther" comes ftom Welsh as the Border dialects and accents are highly influenced by Welsh.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 15, 2022 at 11:18

2 Answers 2


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Ebenezer Cobham Brewer; Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1895)

The quote is evidence that it originally rhymed with other, as the OED states. So far, I haven't found any other support or conjecture that it's from the Greek.

  • I find it strange that this source choses a secondary connotation to define the Greek ποθέω - to desire, thirst, long. I really find it hard to believe that pother has anything to do with it. However, +1 for finding anything on this obscure subject.
    – fev
    Jan 13, 2022 at 15:30
  • Having looked at a few references in an Irish/English parallel translation Bible - I can see nothing to support this. - Of course this could be my non-existent Irish, but one would expect some "p"s.
    – Greybeard
    Jan 14, 2022 at 22:52

In the UOPblog linguist Anatoly Liberman, while searching for the etymology of “bother”, offers the following comments about the possible origin of a related term, “pother”, which, unlucky, still remains obscure.

Pother appeared in English in the sixteenth century. At that time, it rhymed with mother, other, and the like. And the like is a tiny group.

The ODEE says: “…no source is known; perhaps influenced by bother.” Thus, bother was possibly influenced by pother, and pother by bother.

Skeat did risk offering a conjecture about the origin of pother. In his opinion, pother is the same word as podder, from pudder, which is a variant of the verb potter. Putter (around), potter (about), pudder, and podder are indeed variants of the same verb. In addition, we find Scots put or putt “to shove, throw, hurl,” familiar from golf, where putter is both a club and a person who putts. Finally, put ~ putt may be the same verb as Engl. put (in put in, put off, and so forth), even though one rhymes with shut and the other with soot. Apparently, pother can be related to that group if its sense “confusion” (“pottering about”) is primary and “choking smoke” secondary. But this is unlikely: the concrete sense (“smoke”) must have preceded the derivative one (again compare the history of qualm). Therefore, I think Skeat did not guess well. The origin of pother remains unknown and, for this reason, can tell us nothing about bother, another word whose history is obscure.

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