What is the origin of shilly-shally?
We have no need to shilly-shally in giving the origin of this amusing term. It develops from the expression to stand shill I, shall I, a playful variation of the repeated question, shall I? shall I?—which a wishy-washy person would struggle to answer. Shilly-shally is modeled after another so-called reduplication (and near synonym), dilly-dally “to loiter or vacillate.” English is fond of such reduplications, or words formed by repeating a word or syllable. Many reduplications are exact, such as boo-boo. Others rhyme, like razzle-dazzle. Shilly-shally follows a pattern known as ablaut reduplication, in which vowels predictably alternate: chitchat, mishmash, and zigzag are other common examples. Entering English at the end of the 1600s, shilly-shally can also be a noun meaning “irresolution; hesitation; vacillation,” an adjective, “irresolute; undecided; vacillating,” and an adverb, “irresolutely.”