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Etymology 1[edit]

From doll +‎ -y, from the given name Dorothy, originally applied either to a woman or female pet or to a children's toy, and expanded to refer to various types of contrivances or devices.[1] The Online Etymology Dictionary, while considering the reason for applying it to such devices unobvious, compares how the names jack, jenny and jimmy are also applied to devices.[2]

Alternative forms[edit]


dolly (plural dollies)

  1. (childish, colloquial) A doll.
    • 1867 July 1, S.T.C., “The Harleys of Chelsea Place”, in The Christian Treasury[2], page 344:
      ‘He pushed one of my dolly’s eyes in,’ sobbed Dora, hugging her dolly as she replied.
  2. (cooking) A roughly cylindrical wooden object used as a base when molding pie crust.
  3. A contrivance for stirring:
    1. A disc with downward legs and a vertical handle, used for agitating laundry.
      Synonym: posser
      • 1840, R. White (Auctioneer), Sale at Woodhouse Place, near Mansfield. Catalogue of the valuable and useful household furniture [etc.], Third Day's Sale. Wednesday, November 4th, 1840:
        1 Dolly tub and pegs
        2 Mangle
        3 Washing machine
      • 1986, Patricia Malcolmson, English Laundresses: A Social History, 1850-1930[3], page 30:
        In its most common form, the dolly was a four- or five-legged stool attached to an upright handle about three feet long with a crossbar handle at the top.
    2. A device turned on a vertical axis by a handle or a winch, giving a circular motion to ore being washed.
      • 1840, Andrew Ure, A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines[4], page 751:
        The dolly tub or rinsing bucket, fig. 630., has an upright shaft which bears the vane or dolly a b, turned by the winch handle.
  4. A tool with an indented head for shaping the head of a rivet.
    • 1864, William Newton, “To Andrew Shanks, of Robert-street, Adelphi, for an improved rivetting machine”, in Newton's London Journal of Arts[5], page 279:
      A, is the steam or air cylinder for forcing the dolly B, hard against the rivet head while rivetting: when used for making rivets the dolly B, is unshipped, and the rivet heading apparatus substituted.
  5. In pile driving, a block interposed between the head of the pile and the ram of the driver.
  6. A small truck with a single wide roller used for moving heavy beams, columns, etc., in bridge building.
  7. A small truck without means of steering, to be slipped under a load.
  8. A compact, narrow-gauge locomotive used for moving construction trains, switching, etc.
  9. (film) A specialized piece of film equipment resembling a little cart on which a camera is mounted.
  10. (slang) A young woman, especially one who is frivolous or vapid. [from 1790s][3]
    • 1978, John McGrath, Yobbo nowt, page 39:
      But really you get your money from selling things — that's your line, and your Dad's isn't it? Using sexy dollies to con money out of people who've had to work for it. Well my daughter's not just a sugar-plum fairy to titillate men's fantasies, you know.
    • 1996, Billboard, number 45, page 24:
      This glorious collection should be passed around clubland as a textbook study in making a seamless transition from being a disco dolly to a serious pop vocalist.
  11. (slang, UK, dated) A fashionable young woman, one who follows the latest music or clothing fashions. [1960s]
    • 1969 April 8, Prudence Glynn, “246 yards of fashion”, in The Times, page 6:
      Spotlight on the other hand is remarkable for prices and skirt lengths to suit the teenyboppers [] Appeal: to a lunchtime horde of date-going dollies who cannot really afford another dress.
  12. (cricket, dated) A ball hit by a batsman such that it goes gently to a fielder for a simple catch.
  13. (gambling) A marker placed on the winning number by the dealer at roulette.
  14. (obsolete) An old gambling device, found in dolly shops, with the figure of an old man or "dolly", and a spiral hole down which a dropped marble would proceed to one of a set of numbered holes.
Derived terms[edit]
  • Welsh: doli
See also[edit]


dolly (third-person singular simple present dollies, present participle dollying, simple past and past participle dollied)

  1. (transitive, cricket) To hit a dolly.
  2. (transitive) To move (an object) using a dolly.
  3. (transitive) To wash (laundry) in a tub using the stirring device called a dolly.
  4. (transitive) To beat (red-hot metal) with a hammer.
  5. (transitive) To crush ore with a dolly.

Etymology 2[edit]

Disputed. Most scholars derive the term from doll +‎ -y, as Etymology 1, above.[4][3] Linguist Ian Hancock, however, suggests derivation from Italian dolce (sweet).[5]


dolly (comparative more dolly, superlative most dolly)

  1. (Polari) Pretty; attractive.
    • 1967, Kenneth Horne, Bona Bijou Tourettes (Round the Horne), season 3, episode 12:
      Divine. Sitting, sipping a tiny drinkette, vadaïng the great butch omis and dolly little palones trolling by, or disporting yourself on the sable plage getting your lallies all bronzed - your riah getting bleached by the soleil.
    • 2015 October 12, Adam Lowe, “Poem of the week: Vada That”, in The Guardian[6]:
      She minces past the brandy latch / to vada dolly dish for trade, silly / with oomph and taste to park.
  2. (Yorkshire, especially Sheffield) left-handed (also dolly-handed, dolly-pawed, dolly-posh)[6]

Etymology 3[edit]

From Hindi डाली (ḍālī).[7]


dolly (plural dollies)

  1. (India) An offering of fruit or flowers.
    • 1891, Karl August Lentzner, Colonial English, page 65:
      In some parts of India the dolly has grown into an extravagance consisting sometimes of bushels of fruit, nuts, and confectionery, with bottles of champagne and liqueurs.
Alternative forms[edit]


  1. ^ dolly, n.1 Oxford English Dictionary, 1884–1928, and First Supplement, 1933.
  2. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2024) “dolly”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Jonathon Green (2024) “dolly”, in Green’s Dictionary of Slang
  4. ^ John Hajek (1990) “Parlaree: etymologies and notes”, in Spunti e Ricerche[1]
  5. ^ Hancock, Ian (1984) “Shelta and Polari”, in Peter Trudgill, editor, Languages in the British Isles, pages 384-403
  6. ^ Stoddart, Jana, Upton, Clive, Widdowson, J.D.A. (1999) “Sheffield dialect in the 1990s: revisiting the concept of NORMs”, in Urban Voices, London: Arnold, pages 72–89
  7. ^ dolly, n.2 Oxford English Dictionary, 1884–1928, and First Supplement, 1933.