[ fol-ee ]
/ ˈfɒl i /
Save This Word!
See synonyms for: folly / follies on Thesaurus.com

noun, plural fol·lies for 2-6.

the state or quality of being foolish; lack of understanding or sense.
a foolish action, practice, idea, etc.; absurdity: the folly of performing without a rehearsal.
a costly and foolish undertaking; unwise investment or expenditure.
Architecture. a whimsical or extravagant structure built to serve as a conversation piece, lend interest to a view, commemorate a person or event, etc.: found especially in England in the 18th century.
follies, a theatrical revue.
Obsolete. wickedness; wantonness.



Apostrophes can be tricky; prove you know the difference between it’s and its in this crafty quiz!
Question 1 of 12
On the farm, the feed for chicks is significantly different from the roosters’; ______ not even comparable.

Origin of folly

1175–1225; Middle English folie<Old French, derivative of fol, fou foolish, mad. See fool1
su·per·fol·ly, noun, plural su·per·fol·lies.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does folly mean?

A folly is a foolish action. Follies can refer to various unwise practices, buildings with a purely ornamental purpose, or cabaret-style theatrical revues featuring lots of beautiful, dancing women.

Where does folly come from?

The word folly dates back to the early 13th century, originally meaning “foolishness” or “unwise conduct.” It comes from a French word meaning “mad,” as in “deranged.” In its plural form, follies has referred to “absurdities” since at least the 1400s.

By the 1650s, a folly referred to buildings considered too whimsical, overly expensive, or impractical. In the 18th and 19th centuries, some follies were constructed in Europe as ornamental structures reminiscent of antiquity; others, as in Ireland, were built to provide employment for laborers during famines, such as Connolly’s Folly.

By the 1880s, follies referred to an extravagant theatrical production featuring beautiful women. They were inspired by the Parisian Folies Bergère, which were over-the-top cabaret productions that began in 1872 and continue today. A noted example of the follies was the Ziegfeld Follies, which ran on Broadway from 1907 to 1936 and featured the famed Ziegfeld girls.

How is folly used in real life?

Foolish, impractical behavior is often described as a folly. The unusual, impractical architectural follies built in Ireland have become off-beat tourist attractions.

Theatrical follies have seen something of a renaissance with the 2017 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 musical Follies at the Royal National Theatre in London. The show tells the story of the demolition of the fictional Weismann Theatre and the reunion of the showgirls of the Weismann Follies. The production was a smash hit, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival in 2018.

More examples of folly:

“This new cast recording for #Follies from @NationalTheatre is everything. Perfection.”
—@hanskig88, January 2019

“If Aberdeenshire councillors press ahead with this decision they will have learned nothing from the folly of Angus Council. My ward borders Angus and I see for myself how formerly busy car parks are now lying empty in a council concocted wasteland.”
—Leigh Wilson quoted by Graeme Strachan, The Courier, January 2019


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

British Dictionary definitions for folly

/ (ˈfɒlɪ) /

noun plural -lies

the state or quality of being foolish; stupidity; rashness
a foolish action, mistake, idea, etc
a building in the form of a castle, temple, etc, built to satisfy a fancy or conceit, often of an eccentric kind
(plural) theatre an elaborately costumed revue
  1. evil; wickedness
  2. lewdness; wantonness
C13: from Old French folie madness, from fou mad; see fool 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
What's This Word?