Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Utter, Don't Mutter


To utter is to declare something in an audible voice, to express one’s thoughts vocally, but there are many more shades of meaning, some of historical interest, some still current. The -ut- portion of the word is related to the word out.

Particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries, to utter was to offer something for sale or for trade.

It then evolved into putting something into circulation, such as currency.

Then it took on the cast of illegality, as people circulated (uttered) counterfeit currency or forged bank notes. In legal terms, to utter and publish a commercial instrument is to declare, either directly or indirectly, through words or action, that it is genuine. It is a crime to utter a forged check, and you will find the phrase in court records published in local newspapers.

As an adverb, utter means completely, totally, absolute, extreme. We may be utterly confused when we encounter utter darkness; utter chaos may ensue. Here, the adverb is related to the word outer.

Whatever you do, don’t misspell it as udder.


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