I was translating for my wife Kozma Prutkov’s wonderful little fable Кондуктор и тарантул [The conductor and the tarantula] — for the purposes of the poem, тарантул [tarantul] has final stress as opposed to its usual penultimate stress — and when I got to the moral, beginning “Читатель! разочти вперёд свои депансы,/ Чтоб даром не дерзать садиться в дилижансы” ‘Reader! calculate your expenses in advance,/ So that you don’t dare to sit in diligences without paying [like the tarantula],’ she asked me “Why is a diligence called that?” I went off to investigate, and told her that it was from French, short for carosse de diligence ‘coach of speed,’ but I didn’t know how the ‘speed’ sense developed from Latin dīligentia ‘care, attentiveness’ (itself from dīligō ‘esteem, love’). Anybody know? (Incidentally, apparently there used to be a short form dilly which survived in English dialects for “various kinds of carts, trucks, etc., used in agricultural and industrial operations.”)


  1. > […] but I didn’t know how the ‘speed’ sense developed from Latin dīligentia ‘care, attentiveness’ (itself from dīligō ‘esteem, love’). Anybody know?

    Judging from http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/diligence (which gives the intermediate sense « Célérité et exactitude dans l’exécution d’une tâche »), the connection seems to be that if you really care about a task, then you’ll take care of it just not precisely but also swiftly.

  2. That makes sense!

  3. ə de vivre says

    I’m pretty sure I learned the word from Mc Solaar’s Nouveau Western: “Mais Harry à Paris n’a pas eu de chance / On le stoppe sur le périph’ avec sa diligence.”

  4. used to be a short form dilly which survived in English dialects for “various kinds of carts, trucks, etc., …”

    Including removals vans?

    My old man said follow the van
    and don’t dilly-dally on the way.

    (The etyms say that’s reduplication, but why duplicate it that particular way?)

  5. Boris Slutsky – Props of two centuries, poetry.

  6. There’s an Australian term “dilly” or “dillybag” meaning roughly what Americans call a totebag. I have the idea that it comes from some Aboriginal language. In this I am supported by GA Wilkes, A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms. Wilkes does not cite a particular Aboriginal language.

    Not to be confused with

    dill a simpleton
    America is hard to gauge,
    The way she backs and fills,
    I often wonder, is she straight,
    Or is she run by dills?
    (Barry Humphries)

    dilly foolish
    One translation which he [CJ Brennan, d. 1932] has pencilled after the Latin words ocules languidum tuens–“with a dilly look in her eyes”.

    dilly excellent thing
    That’s a dilly of an idea!

  7. Wiktionary says: “From Yagara dili (“coarse grass; small fibre bag or basket”).”

    Yagara includes Turrbal, the indigenous language spoken around the Brisbane area. Apparently the “Turrbal horde itself was located specifically in what is now called the Brisbane CBD” (Wikipedia).

    Tom Petrie (son of one of the founding families of the Brisbane area settlements) grew up among the Turrbal and mastered the language from an early age.

  8. LH actually has a post on the neighbouring language of Yugambeh.

  9. AntC, Nothing to do with anything called a “dilly”. “Dilly-dally” is just one of many examples of reduplication which use the vowels i and a, e.g. chit-chat, flim-flam, mishmash, shilly-shally.

  10. hm… was not expecting this to, er, pop up: https://www.etymonline.com/word/dildo

  11. When I was a kid, we used to call our weenies or willies our “diddle”.

    Of course, “diddle” wasn’t a ‘naughty word (it was on the same level as “widdle” or “wee wee” for a pee), but if I remember rightly, I was slightly intrigued by “Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle”.

  12. I’m pretty sure I learned the word from Mc Solaar’s Nouveau Western

    I loved the rap and video, and was proud of myself for catching the reference to La Chevauchée fantastique (the French translation of Stagecoach).

  13. Stagecoach, of course, being the American translation of diligence.

  14. David Marjanović says

    dill a simpleton

    dilly foolish

    Lo these onescore years ago, a fashionable insult in eastern Austria was Dillo, except it was always pronounced with so much contempt that I can’t guarantee it didn’t really begin with /t/. It seemed to be aimed at one’s intelligence.

  15. John Cowan says

    Shilly-shally is apparently a version of Shall I? Shall I? modified to use the reduplication pattern. Similarly the others except flim-flam are transparently from one component. Anent flim-flam, the OED says: “Possibly based on a Scandinavian word which may have existed in some English dialects; compare Old Norse flim a lampoon, flimska mockery, flimta to flout.”

  16. ~dilly-dilly~
    In this Bud Light TV ad, the King salutes the bringers of beer boxes with ‘Dilly-dilly!’ No one in my English-speaking suite could explain why –

  17. heck, for example “willy-nilly” is practically a complete sentence on its own, so of course there might be more going on in some of the “dilly-dally”-type formulations than just baby talk. On the other hand, hard to prove some of them aren’t just folk eymology… they often show up in actual “folk” songs, after all!

  18. David Marjanović says

    Dalli, dalli! is an impolite way to encourage people to speed up in German, and was the name of a TV gameshow at some point.

    …Actually, it may qualify as an ideophone, because it can be used more or less like an adjective/adverb, too.

  19. Whoa! I must have learned the word “diligence” in Danish from reading Lucky Luke as a young boy, and I must have learned the more usual meaning of “diligence” in English much later, because I never connected the two words in my mind until now.

    > Dalli, dalli!

    For some reason I’m reminded of “dale” or “ándale” (both mean “OK” in some version of Spanish), but Wiktionary says “dalli” is a loanword from Polish. Interesting. Are there many of those in German?

  20. David Marjanović says

    Loanwords from Polish? No, though there are a few from unidentifiable-Slavic-said-to-be-Polish, like Grenze “border, boundary” < granica.

  21. Kate Bunting says

    Here in Derby (UK) I vaguely remember that there used to be a bar in one of the pubs called the ‘Derby Dilly’. Googling the phrase, I found to my surprise that it was an expression in 19th century politics, though referring to a relation of the Earl of Derby rather than to the town. http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/politics/dilly.htm

  22. Man, early-19th-century English politics is hard enough to understand; why do they make it harder by omitting the vital information that “Lord Edward Stanley” was the Earl of Derby?

  23. “ándale”: whoa, that’s got to be the word the Speedy Gonzales character was saying? … Yep.

  24. The phrase “dilly dilly” is repeated mercilessly in the tune “Lavender Blue,” recorded countless times over the past 70 years by such as Burl Ives, Dinah Shore, Sammy Turner, etc.

  25. John Cowan says

    “Lavender blue, dilly dilly, lavender green / When I am grue, dilly dilly, you will be bleen.” –Nelson Goodman version.

  26. CuConnacht says

    The origin of willy-nilly is pretty clear from the line in The Taming of the Shrew where Petrucchio says to Kate “I will marry you, Kate, will you, nill you.” Any or all of “will ye nill ye,” “Will I, nill I,” “Will he, nill he” could have evolved into will-nilly.

    I would have thought that dilly-dally was connected to delay.

  27. The use of “diligence” to refer to a stage coach comes, I believe, from an illustration in Guillaume de la Perrière’s _Le théâtre des bons engins_ (The Theater of Fine Devices), an emblem book published in 1539. It shows Diligence, holding the horn of plenty, being pulled on a cart by a number of ants. I guess the idea was that the stage coaches were too slow.
    Image at https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8626159x/f218.double.shift

  28. Terry Collmann says

    Bathrobe has reminded me of something I had forgotten over the past 60 years, that my mother’s euphemism for “penis” was “diddlums”,

    Her mother, my grandmother, had an expression, “Hawking yer mutton down the ‘dilly”, meaning being a prostitute in Piccadilly.

  29. HSaussy, thank you for the reference and the link to the book.

    One question about the text on the facing page: What is the significance of the final E with a line through it? Initially i thiught that it was a typographical flourish, but then not all words ending with an E have this line. Is it a way of marking a mute E?

  30. January First-of-May says

    Is it a way of marking a mute E?

    That’s what it seems like to me from my impression of the meter.

    (…Or maybe the metre; for some reason my spellchecker considers this a typo.)

  31. David Marjanović says

    The meter, and the fact that each of them is followed by a vowel.

    meter: US
    metre: UK, Canada, and I think Australia

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