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[shil-ee-shal-ee] /ˈʃɪl iˌʃæl i/
verb (used without object), shilly-shallied, shilly-shallying.
to show indecision or hesitation; be irresolute; vacillate.
to waste time; dawdle.
noun, plural shilly-shallies.
irresolution; indecision; vacillation:
It was sheer shilly-shally on his part.
irresolute; undecided; vacillating.
Origin of shilly-shally
1690-1700; orig. repeated question, shall I? shall I? later altered on the model of its synonym dilly-dally
Related forms
shilly-shallier, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for shilly-shally
Historical Examples
  • The Kaiser, instead of taking strong measures at once, pursued his usual policy of shilly-shally.

    The Story of Nuremberg Cecil Headlam
  • shilly-shally, to trifle or fritter away time; to be irresolute.

    The Slang Dictionary John Camden Hotten
  • There is no use in this shilly-shally way of yours, St. Clare!

    Uncle Tom's Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Drapery it was, and quickly; for Mrs. Munsey was not wont to shilly-shally.

    Tales of Mean Streets Arthur Morrison
  • They are monopolists—severe monopolists; shilly-shally is one of their monopolies.

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

  • Perhaps, when it is over you will be sorry for your shilly-shally stand off—no, I won't say it.

    The Lady of Lynn Walter Besant
  • He mustn't palter, or trifle, or shilly-shally about that iron certainty.

    The Devil's Garden W. B. Maxwell
  • I'm not going to be stopped by any shilly-shally nonsense, when my future respectability, perhaps, is at stake.

    He Knew He Was Right Anthony Trollope
  • They shilly-shally, they pick and choose, they discuss, they criticise.

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).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for shilly-shally



  1. (also shillaber) An associate of an auctioneer, gambler, hawker, etc, who pretends to be a member of the audience and stimulates it to desired action: The shill is innocuous-looking (1916+ Circus)
  2. A barker, hawker, advertising or public relations person, or anyone else whose job is to stimulate business; flack (1940s+)


: That summer he shilled for a sidewalk hawker (1914+)

[origin unknown; perhaps, since it is a shortening of shillaber, ultimately fr Shillibeer, the name of an early 1800s British owner of a large bus company, the reference being to persons hired as decoys to sit in buses and attract passengers]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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