in a disorganized or unplanned manner; sloppily.
whether one wishes to or not; willingly or unwillingly: He'll have to do it willy-nilly.


shilly-shallying; vacillating.
disorganized, unplanned; sloppy: willy-nilly work.

Origin of willy-nilly

1600–10; from the phrase will ye, nill ye. See will1, nill
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for willy-nilly

haphazardly, ambivalent, inevitable, unavoidable, perforce

Examples from the Web for willy-nilly

Historical Examples of willy-nilly

  • "Sir laggard, I knew that willy-nilly you would follow me," she cried.

    The Tavern Knight

    Rafael Sabatini

  • Cynthia may fret and fume and stamp, but willy-nilly I shall carry her away.

    The Tavern Knight

    Rafael Sabatini

  • You are the three volume man with the happy ending tacked on willy-nilly.


    James Huneker

  • This was actually done, and our friend was present willy-nilly.

    A Labrador Doctor

    Wilfred Thomason Grenfell

  • At Jamestown, willy-nilly, the old Governor was forced to promise reforms.

British Dictionary definitions for willy-nilly



whether desired or not


occurring or taking place whether desired or not
occurring haphazardly

Word Origin for willy-nilly

Old English wile hē, nyle hē, literally: will he or will he not; nyle, from ne not + willan to will 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

Word Origin and History for willy-nilly

c.1600, contraction of will I, nill I, or will he, nill he, or will ye, nill ye, literally "with or without the will of the person concerned." See nill + will (v.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper