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Arts & Life

The racy past of "lollygag"

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Lollygagging, screwing around, goofing off – whatever you call it, we can all agree there a lot of ways to talk about wasting time in English. 

Kalen, who previously asked us about "druthers," says "I tell my kids all the time to not lollygag, doodle or dilly dally. They are fun words, to be sure, but where do they come from?"

They are most definitely fun words. But watch out for "lollygag." It seems innocent at first, but then things get kind of racy.

"Lollygag," also known historically as "lallygag," comes into English in the mid-19th century meaning to dawdle. However, at that time, "lollygag" also meant to fool around.

Yes, that kind of fooling around.

Check out this awesome line that appeared in an Iowa newspaper in 1868: “The lascivious lollygagging lumps of licentiousness who disgrace the common decencies of life by their love-sick fawnings at our public dances."

Another great line from 1949 appears in the Oxford English Dictionary: "Lollygagging was grandmother's word for love-making." Today "lollygag" means to idle or dawdle, though we're guessing that some of you may now be having second thoughts about using it.   

That's OK, we've got other words for wasting time. For example, the verb "doodle" can mean to draw or scribble but in an aimless, time-wasting manner. When you think about it that way, it makes sense that "doodle" can also mean to dawdle.

We've also got "dilly-dally." The base word "dally" came in from Old French hundreds of years ago and meant to chat idly. Over time "dally" picked up other meanings such as to toy with things or spend time idly.

By the 19th century we get "dilly dally." "Dilly dally" is an example of reduplication. That's when you repeat the form of a word but change the vowel. Other examples of reduplication include "flip flop," "zig zag," and "mish mash."

Do you have other words for wasting time? Let us know below.

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