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From will I, nill I (also with ye or he instead of I), meaning “if I am willing, if I am not willing”, that is, “whether I am willing or not”. See will (to desire, wish), nill ((obsolete) to be unwilling).[1]



willy-nilly (comparative more willy-nilly, superlative most willy-nilly)

  1. Whether desired or not; without regard for the consequences or the wishes of those affected; whether willingly or unwillingly.
    Synonyms: (archaic) nilly-willy, nolens volens
    Some writers chasing money churn out novels willy-nilly.
  2. Seemingly at random; haphazardly.
    The novel Alice in Wonderland describes a place where things happen willy-nilly.

Alternative forms[edit]


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willy-nilly (comparative more willy-nilly, superlative most willy-nilly)

  1. That happens whether willingly or unwillingly.
    Synonym: (archaic) nilly-willy
    • 1877, Alfred Tennyson, Harold: A Drama, London: Henry S. King & Co., OCLC 1246230498, Act V, scene v, page 129:
      [S]omeone saw thy willy-nilly nun / Vying a tress against our golden fern.
    • 1882, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Promise of May”, in Locksley Hall Sixty Years After etc., London; New York, N.Y.: Macmillan and Co., published 1886, OCLC 19600983, Act II, page 119:
      O my God, if man be only / A willy-nilly current of sensations— / Reaction needs must follow revel—yet— / Why feel remorse, he, knowing that he must have / Moved in the iron grooves of Destiny?

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  1. ^ willy-nilly, adv. and adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2015; “willy-nilly, adv.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

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