Definitions

from The American HeritageĀ® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • intransitive v. To procrastinate.
  • intransitive v. To be unable to come to a decision; vacillate.
  • intransitive v. To spend time on insignificant things; dawdle.
  • adj. Hesitant; vacillating.
  • n. Procrastination; hesitation.
  • adv. In a hesitant manner; irresolutely.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To procrastinate.
  • v. To vacillate.
  • adj. indecisive; wavering

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • intransitive v. To hesitate; to act in an irresolute manner; hence, to occupy one's self with trifles.
  • n. Irresolution; hesitation; also, occupation with trifles.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To act in an irresolute or undecided manner; hesitate.
  • In an irresolute or hesitating manner.
  • n. Indecision; irresolution; foolish trifling.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the act of procrastinating; putting off or delaying or defering an action to a later time
  • v. postpone doing what one should be doing
  • v. be uncertain and vague

Etymologies

Reduplication of the question shall I?
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From shall I. Shill-I-shall-I was an older form. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • And while some polls show that Obama is still vulnerable on national security, especially as his administration seems to shilly-shally over how to try terrorists, public sentiment is lagging behind some very positive facts emerging on the ground.

    Has Obama Hit Bottom?

  • Quinlan: Ā  "I don't shilly-shally around on this issue."

    For Chronic Reduplicators, Things Aren't Hunky-Dory

  • Cameron and Hague both continue to shilly-shally on this topic which makes many suspect that they will seek to avoid the issue if they can, knowing that a vote then to reject the Treaty would open up the whole issue of our membership of the EU at a stroke.

    Archive 2008-03-02

  • You can put on the tap shoes and shilly-shally all you want, but if the entire state of Florida had been recounted, and if those Broward County fogies hadn't voted for Pat Buchanan by mistake, and if all those African-American Floridians hadn't been unfairly disqualified from voting, Al Gore would have been sworn in as president in 2001.

    Jeffrey Wells: HBO's Recount Rave

  • Scientists don't have the time or resources to shilly-shally with every new idea that comes down the pike.

    Michael Shermer: The Power of Positive Skepticism: A Reply to Deepak Chopra

  • Do! why I would have you give him his day, ahd keep to it; that I would have you do: and not shilly-shally for ever and subject the best of men to in sults.

    Sir Charles Grandison

  • To shilly-shally about something, not do something, ruminate over it, finally decide to take the plunge--and by then it's too late.

    hitchhiker in the rain

  • I would not be guilty of shilly-shally conduct; I would tell her frankly what I felt and what I thought, and would make her understand that I did not desire her hand if I could not have her heart.

    Tales of all countries

  • Men liked to be talked to straight, and no shilly-shally.

    Robbery Under Arms

  • You and me might shilly-shally here on this road all day, and what surety shall we hev 'that they hevn't gone by the other road.

    Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 12, No. 31, October, 1873

Comments

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  • Gil Blas, said he, I never stand shilly-shally: begone, you are free; you may take yourself off whenever you please.

    - Lesage, The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane, tr. Smollett, bk 1 ch. 13

    September 12, 2008