Here, thanks to Professor Bill Ross of Mathematics, we have a noun and verb (no variation in forms, there) apt for this time of the semester. Whatever you students (and faculty) do, now is not the time to dilly-dally.
The OED hyphenates our term, and the entry notes how similar terms, like zig-zag or shilly-shally, all express “a see-saw action.” In our case, the vacillation is between acting or not acting. The word is old, with recorded uses going back to the novel Pamela in 1740. No etymology appears at the OED. Certainly other terms for this back-and-forth exist. Send them my way.
There’s nuance in dilly-dally. This type of indecision does not necessarily stop us in our tracks, nor is it quite equal to being a slow-poke; a minor Tolkien character calls his helper a “slowcoach” in The Fellowship of the Ring. More is at stake than taking one’s time. I suppose a dilly-dallier could be purposeful, in order to come to a decision, or simply plodding. Others seem to make that call. The person dilly-dallying may not even know it.
I would say more to you dilly-dallies (a rather rare nominal plural) but we need to get busy! To work!
Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
image courtesy of Needpix.