Definition of shilly-shally in US English:


verbshilly-shallies, shilly-shallied, shilly-shallying

[no object]
  • Fail to act resolutely or decisively.

    ‘the government shilly-shallied about the matter’
    • ‘However, I have been shilly-shallying, due to the cramped space of my flat and the densely inhabited area where I reside.’
    • ‘I think the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have shilly-shallied around this for far too long.’
    • ‘Not even knowing to write the alphabets, he can read newspapers flawlessly without shilly-shallying, no matter how tough the word is.’
    • ‘Her lobster is warm, which is reason enough not to shilly-shally with it, and my crustaceans are chilled, which I too do not want to compromise.’
    • ‘That the government has been weak and shilly-shallying, that the public are dupes and the farmers paying the price seems to me to be very much in the current run of things.’
    • ‘Does it mean that you shilly-shallied about giving them the full document?’
    • ‘There are people out there willing to be tested, who do not shilly-shally and stall.’
    • ‘You know, you can shilly-shally around, but if you want your players to win then you have to give them everything you can.’
    • ‘I think Michael felt the same because we dawdled and shilly-shallied about; enjoying the freedom rather than getting on with the journey.’
    • ‘There's no point shilly-shallying about the shallows, you've got to wade into the deep area.’
    • ‘‘They then started shilly-shallying,’ she said.’
    • ‘But I don't believe in shilly-shallying around.’
    • ‘Though many of them were shilly-shallying to come to the stage, some were sportive enough to take part.’
    • ‘No native in this group shilly-shallies with milestones in life such as who to marry and what career to choose.’
    dither, be indecisive, be irresolute, be undecided, be uncertain, be unsure, be doubtful, vacillate, waver, teeter, hesitate, oscillate, fluctuate, falter, drag one's feet
    View synonyms


  • Indecisive behavior.

    • ‘He is now getting credit on the campaign trail for avoiding that kind of shilly-shallying and just arguing that the war was a bad idea in any case.’
    • ‘One result of this shilly-shallying is that much of the talk about liberty becomes a self-serving charade.’
    • ‘The Government's shilly-shallying and reluctance to act only led to thousands of disputes simply getting out of control.’
    • ‘We can live with either, but this kind of shilly-shallying only serves to destabilize the industry and diminish the game.’
    • ‘He said he wouldn't negotiate with North Korea, but after a year of shilly-shallying he began quietly doing exactly that.’
    • ‘She cut through all the silly shilly-shallying by pointing out that the broadcaster pursued an agenda of ‘internationalism, multi-culturalism and political correctness’.’
    • ‘After nine months of shilly-shallying, the Vice President and his operatives have failed to bluff the General Account Office.’
    • ‘No shilly-shallying: just determination and a no-nonsense approach to hitting the enemy and hitting him hard.’
    • ‘He hesitated to accept, but his forceful wife was having none of this shilly-shallying and telegraphed from America, ‘Do not procrastinate’.’
    • ‘At which point we wondered why the whole economy didn't just base itself on the dollar, and cut out all of this shilly-shallying.’
    • ‘He had had enough of the shilly-shallying that now dominates the game's upper echelons.’
    • ‘Other peoples' shilly-shallying could strain the not superabundant supply of Aquarian patience this week, but over-reacting won't serve your purposes.’
    • ‘Any shilly-shallying on that front would be dealt with swiftly and effectively by the ladies in the back kitchen.’
    • ‘Yet all we are hearing here, in her fourth year as Minister, is all this delay and dilly-dallying and shilly-shallying.’
    • ‘But it was so thrilling to be around someone who's been making films for so long that they know exactly what they want and how they want their world to look that there's no shilly-shallying.’
    • ‘These and other policies have been damaged by backtracking, U-turns, watering down and general shilly-shallying.’
    • ‘The three girlfriends are chiefly excuses for Bobby's shilly-shallying, so we get glaring patches of clashing color revolving around a colorless blob.’
    • ‘This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd.’
    • ‘Taxpayers, of course, have to pay for this shilly-shallying, directly in extra pay for legislators and through indirect costs.’
    • ‘No amount of shilly-shallying and wishy-washy arguments from the police will convince me that in some areas the police are simply not achieving the results we want them to achieve.’


Mid 18th century: originally as shill I, shall I, reduplication of shall I?.