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See more synonyms for shilly-shally on Thesaurus.com
verb (used without object), shil·ly-shal·lied, shil·ly-shal·ly·ing.
  1. to show indecision or hesitation; be irresolute; vacillate.
  2. to waste time; dawdle.
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noun, plural shil·ly-shal·lies.
  1. irresolution; indecision; vacillation: It was sheer shilly-shally on his part.
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  1. irresolute; undecided; vacillating.
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  1. irresolutely.
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Origin of shilly-shally

1690–1700; orig. repeated question, shall I? shall I? later altered on the model of its synonym dilly-dally
Related formsshil·ly-shal·li·er, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for shilly-shally

Historical Examples

  • There is no use in this shilly-shally way of yours, St. Clare!

    Uncle Tom's Cabin

    Harriet Beecher Stowe

  • Shilly-shally, to trifle or fritter away time; to be irresolute.

    The Slang Dictionary

    John Camden Hotten

  • Drapery it was, and quickly; for Mrs. Munsey was not wont to shilly-shally.

    Tales of Mean Streets

    Arthur Morrison

  • Strange that people will have so much faith in shilly-shally!

  • "I have little experience of shilly-shally methods," replied his visitor.

    The Open Question

    Elizabeth Robins

Word Origin and History for shilly-shally


"to vacillate," 1782, from adverbial expression to stand shilly-shally (1703), earlier shill I, shall I (1700), a fanciful reduplication of shall I? (cf. wishy-washy, dilly-dally, etc.). From 1734 as an adjective, by 1755 as a noun. Related: Shilly-shallying (1816).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper