Lollygagging

I came across a new word, or at least one I don’t recall having encountered before, this morning: lollygag.

The Oxford Dictionary of English on my Kindle, where I first found the word, says that it is an informal North American verb meaning “to spend time aimlessly; idle”.  There were two example sentences given: “She goes to Arizona every January to lollygag in the sun” and “We’re lollygagging along”.  The word is claimed to date from the mid 19th century and be of unknown origin.

According to Wiktionary (see the link above), the word occurs in (presumably informal) US English, and means “to dawdle; to be lazy or idle; to avoid necessary work or effort.”  This seems a slightly more negative definition than the ODE one.

Wiktionary didn’t give any example sentences using lollygag as a verb, although there are translations into a few other languages, such as paresser in French, trödeln or schlampen in German and бездельничать (or byezdyelnichat for a very rough transliteration) in Russian; none of those are words I’ve previously encountered either, although I have spoken and read considerably less of any of those languages than English.

I did a quick Google search to see if I could find some examples in the wild.  Most of the hits I got were definitions or explanations of the term, but I did manage eventually to find some sentences using the word.  Probably my favourite was from a New York Times article:

The first time I saw a tarantula lollygagging on the front porch…

Lollygag can, apparently, also be used as a noun, meaning “silliness, nonsense”.  Wiktionary did give an example sentence for this one:

He likes to do his car up with blacked-out windows, and all that lollygag.

The only translation given for the noun version was the French absurdité, which I’m sure I have seen (and possibly used) before.

I can’t think of a particularly good Welsh translation for lollygag as a verb, but the noun use is fairly similar to the Welsh word lol, which roughly means “nonsense” (as in “Paid â siarad lol” – “Don’t talk nonsense”).  It’s tempting to think that there may be an etymological connection between lol and lollygag but I think it’s more likely that it’s just a coincidence.

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