General Question

occ's avatar

where does the phrase "dilly-dally" come from?

Asked by occ (4083points) September 27th, 2007
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7 Answers

bob's avatar

Wow, it’s really interesting and very old.

The first reference in the OED is from 1610: BABINGTON Comf. Notes, Gen. xxiv. 57 Such dilly dally is fitter for heathens that know not God, than for sober Christians.

The word dally is from Middle English dalien, from Old French dalier, but I can’t find a record of who was the first person to say “dilly-dally” and make up that phrase. Presumably it was already a saying when Babington wrote it down in 1610.

TruMobius's avatar

Considering its got roots in English (well after the aforementioned French)....I would assume that like most Britton English slang that has some sort of rhyme associated with it.

gailcalled's avatar

Check out shilly-shally. It also means to loiter or procrastinate.

bob's avatar

Good point, Gail, though dilly-dally was around before shilly-shally (which comes from saying “Shill I, Shall I”)

christybird's avatar

“Shilly-shally” / “dilly-dally” seems like an obvious rhyme you would think many lyricists would have taken advantage of, but the only song I’ve ever heard that uses it is “Let’s Have a Drink on It” from the 1967 Disney film “The Happiest Millionaire”: “No shilly-shallying/no dilly-dallying/Let’s have a drink on it now!”

Ah yes, Disney films from back in the days when binge drinking was used as a comical plot device and cause for song…

gailcalled's avatar

Speaking of songs, 17th century folk song and then a lullaby for kids: sang in Disney’s “So Dear to My Heart”.

Dilly dilly

Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly,
Lavender’s green
When you are King, dilly dilly,
I shall be Queen….ad nauseum

jvgr's avatar

Don’t forget that it was also a popular rock and roll song:
Sammy Turner: Lavender Blue (1959)

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