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[wil-ee-nil-ee] /ˈwɪl iˈnɪl i/
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 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for willy-nilly
Historical Examples
  • He might have to march in such a procession, willy-nilly, over a gang-plank swept by a watchful eye.

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

  • Still many sorts of caterpillars keep these willy-nilly turnings, until they are full grown.

    Natural Wonders Edwin Tenney Brewster
  • Consequently, we are compelled, willy-nilly, to borrow from others.

    A Nobleman's Nest Ivan Turgenieff
  • Tom strove vainly to make headway against the storm, but felt himself carried, willy-nilly, he knew not where.

  • One thing, willy-nilly, we have done,—or rather nature has done it for us.

    Expository Writing Mervin James Curl
  • You are the three volume man with the happy ending tacked on willy-nilly.

    Melomaniacs James Huneker
  • willy-nilly, the strong, intellectual Negro is linked to his unfortunate fellow.

    Half a Man Mary White Ovington
  • willy-nilly, Europe will have to adapt itself to the new conditions.

    The Forerunners Romain Rolland
  • Moreover the day is coming when he will be compelled to welcome it willy-nilly.

    Our Railroads To-Morrow Edward Hungerford
British Dictionary definitions for willy-nilly


whether desired or not
occurring or taking place whether desired or not
occurring haphazardly
Word Origin
Old English wile hē, nyle hē, literally: will he or will he not; nyle, from ne not + willan to will1
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
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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
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