Tuesday, August 20, 2013



The technical term for "dilly-dally" is reduplication - that is, a word that is repeated exactly or with a slight change. Babies say them, " mama, papa, no-no, bye-bye, choo-choo, night-night,  pee-pee, poo-poo." Even adults use them, "chit-chat, hokey-pokey, honey bunny." We repeat ourselves because we like to say, "I told you so."

Today we interpret the dilly-dally to mean, "To waste time, especially in indecision; dawdle or vacillate." See the FreeDictionary.

The OED dates the first use of the word from 1741, it showed up in a romantic novel, which is appropriate, but the word must have been in common use. In the 13th century, the French invented the word dalier, meaning "to amuse oneself,"quite possibly romantically, for the English created the word daliance, today's dalliance, to mean a romantic affair merely for pleasure.

detail of Salvador Dali, by Philippe Halsman, 1954

"Dilly" rhymes with "silly," and what is sillier than an old man who engages in a sad sweet dalliance that goes nowhere and ends badly. That makes him twice the fool.

Why Salvador Dali, you ask?

Don't dilly-dally Dali. Many of Dali's paintings showed a melted time clock, a symbol of the relativity of space and time.Then, there is the story of how Salvador was named for an older brother, also named Salvador, who died 9 months before Salvador was born. When he was a young boy, he was taken to the grave of his brother and told he was a reincarnation. That makes him a reduplication in my eyes.

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