Definition of shilly-shally in English:



  • Fail to act resolutely or decisively.

    ‘the government shilly-shallied about the matter’
    • ‘‘They then started shilly-shallying,’ she said.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘I think the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have shilly-shallied around this for far too long.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘You know, you can shilly-shally around, but if you want your players to win then you have to give them everything you can.’
    • ‘Does it mean that you shilly-shallied about giving them the full document?’
    • ‘Not even knowing to write the alphabets, he can read newspapers flawlessly without shilly-shallying, no matter how tough the word is.’
    • ‘However, I have been shilly-shallying, due to the cramped space of my flat and the densely inhabited area where I reside.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘There's no point shilly-shallying about the shallows, you've got to wade into the deep area.’
    • ‘I think Michael felt the same because we dawdled and shilly-shallied about; enjoying the freedom rather than getting on with the journey.’
    • ‘No native in this group shilly-shallies with milestones in life such as who to marry and what career to choose.’
    • ‘There are people out there willing to be tested, who do not shilly-shally and stall.’
    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.

    • ‘We can live with either, but this kind of shilly-shallying only serves to destabilize the industry and diminish the game.’
    • ‘These and other policies have been damaged by backtracking, U-turns, watering down and general 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.’
    • ‘Taxpayers, of course, have to pay for this shilly-shallying, directly in extra pay for legislators and through indirect costs.’
    • ‘The three girlfriends are chiefly excuses for Bobby's shilly-shallying, so we get glaring patches of clashing color revolving around a colorless blob.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘He hesitated to accept, but his forceful wife was having none of this shilly-shallying and telegraphed from America, ‘Do not procrastinate’.’
    • ‘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’.’
    • ‘This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd.’
    • ‘After nine months of shilly-shallying, the Vice President and his operatives have failed to bluff the General Account Office.’
    • ‘One result of this shilly-shallying is that much of the talk about liberty becomes a self-serving charade.’
    • ‘Other peoples' shilly-shallying could strain the not superabundant supply of Aquarian patience this week, but over-reacting won't serve your purposes.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Yet all we are hearing here, in her fourth year as Minister, is all this delay and dilly-dallying and shilly-shallying.’
    • ‘No shilly-shallying: just determination and a no-nonsense approach to hitting the enemy and hitting him hard.’
    • ‘The Government's shilly-shallying and reluctance to act only led to thousands of disputes simply getting out of control.’
    • ‘He had had enough of the shilly-shallying that now dominates the game's upper echelons.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Any shilly-shallying on that front would be dealt with swiftly and effectively by the ladies in the back kitchen.’


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