Consider this sentence from a film review:

What looks at first like an [sic] conventional Brit period drama about royals is actually a witty and elegant new perspective on the abdication crisis and on the dysfunctional quiver at the heart of the Windsors and of prewar Britain.

-- https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/21/kings-speech-review-colin-firth

I can't understand on the dysfunctional quiver at the heart of the Windsors and of prewar Britain."

Does the word quiver mean a slight shake here? And what is the meaning of dysfunctional?

  • 2
    Personally, I think the author (the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw) is getting a bit too pretentious here. Dysfunctional simply means not functioning properly - and I'd say by far the more common context for it is dysfunctional family. Bradshaw probably was thinking in terms of the dysfunctional royal family at the time, but he's gotten this concept mixed up with quiver = trembling, disquiet, apprehension. Feb 16, 2018 at 15:27
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    Note that the text refers to The King's Speech movie, primarily concerned with the fact that King George VI had a speech impediment (he stammered badly, so his voice could be fancifully described as quivering, stuttering), but most likely Bradshaw was actually thinking about "royal unease" in more general terms (they obviously weren't a happy lot, and George himself only reluctantly took the throne after his brother Edward abdicated). To some extent the entire royal family and the establishment at large were quaking in their boots that the whole "house of cards" might soon fall apart. Feb 16, 2018 at 15:36
  • Whatever quiver means here, the adjective dysfunctional is, IMO, meant to be understood as "produced by dysfunction" or "characteristic of dysfunction" rather than "not functioning properly". For what would a quiver that is not functioning properly be?
    – TimR
    Feb 16, 2018 at 20:49

2 Answers 2


The phrase dysfunctional quiver as used here means an unhealthy, problematic, or defective sign of weakness, instability, or disorder (shakiness, lack of solidity) within the royal family--a precariousness.

It is not clear if the author meant to describe only the royal family in this way, or the royal family and prewar Britain as a whole.

Yes, quiver means a shaking, shakiness or tremor, it can indicate weakness or infirmity, instability, disorder, etc.

Here a dictionary shows one sense of shaky as precarious:


The definition of tremor here shows how several of these meanings can be synonymous:

Definition of tremor

1 a : a trembling or shaking usually from physical weakness, emotional stress, or disease
b : nervous excitement

2 : a quivering or vibratory motion; especially : a discrete small movement following or preceding a major seismic event
3 a : a feeling of uncertainty or insecurity a tremor of hesitation
b : a cause of such a feeling


Dysfunctional means, essentially, something wrong; something not behaving or working normally



I certainly read it as referring to shaking, and more particularly nervous shaking. One can quiver with fear as well as with excitement. My SOED defines the verb to quiver as: to shake tremble or vibrate. In this context trembling is the sense intended. The SOED does not include quiver as a noun in a similar sense, perhaps because it is a new coinage, but the meaning is clearly derived from the verb.

  • The full OED has first citation for quiver (noun, cf quaver) as 1786. Admittedly that's much later than the verb form (first cited 1490), but it's hardly a "new coinage". Feb 16, 2018 at 15:45
  • I did not say it was new coinage, only that perhaps on the information available to me it might be.
    – JeremyC
    Feb 23, 2018 at 16:52
  • Consider something like: As rebellions grew in both number and intensity, and given the infighting within the Senate, the empire quivered. The next few years would determine whether it would gain footing toward re-establishing stability or head further toward decline. ... Something like that. I think nervous shaking, a tremor, sign of disturbance ... those ideas all seem to work to me. I think this answer could be improved by specifying what we might reasonably deduce the writer thought was quivering, and how describing the quiver as dysfunctional may support that interpretation. Feb 24, 2018 at 7:17

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