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.


Hurkling and hills

While browsing Wikipedia the other day, I came across a list of English words without rhymes, formally known as refractory rhymes.  The article also contained a list of common English words that only rhyme with very obscure words.  Of the latter, one that caught my eye was hurkle (which rhymes with circle – I’ll leave it to you to figure out which of those two is the common word and which the obscure one).

To hurkle is a verb, which the Wikipedia article says means to pull in all ones limbs.  Wiktionary gives a bit more detail, suggesting that the primary meaning is to draw in the parts of the body, especially with pain or cold.  It can also mean to cower (obviously a related meaning).  Unfortunately Wiktionary doesn’t give any usage examples (or translations) for this particular word and pretty much all of the hits I turned up on a Google search seemed to be for unrelated uses.  Still, you never know when you might be writing a poem and needing a rhyme for ‘circle’.

Incidentally, I was once told (and it seems to be a commonly held opinion, though I can no longer call it a fact as I once did) that “orange” was the only word in the English language that didn’t have a rhyme.  In fact, orange only makes it onto the obscure-rhymes list rather than the no-rhymes list, as it rhymes with Blorenge, the name of a hill down in South Wales.  On the other hand, there are quite a few words that Wikipedia lists as true refractory rhymes (you can read the article for yourself if you’re that interested).

If tonight is as chilly as the last few nights have been, I shall no doubt hurkle (with cold, rather than pain) when I get into bed.