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What Does It Mean to Lollygag?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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The actual origin of the term lollygag is unknown, although many sources trace it back to mid-19th century America. Some sources also provide an alternative spelling of lallygag, although this doesn't exactly help establish the word's historical origins, either. To lollygag means to fool around or dawdle, primarily to avoid actual work or to start other unappealing activities.

Children trying to avoid going to school may lollygag by eating their breakfast in dribs and drabs, or else spend an inordinate amount of time getting dressed or grooming. Some may waste time by watching television instead of dressing or playing a video game instead of finishing homework. The point of effective lollygagging is to waste as much time as possible without the appearance of obvious laziness.

Some people prefer to lollygag in their favorite stores at the local shopping mall, meandering through the aisles at a leisurely pace instead of going directly to the original destination. While taking one's time while shopping may be perfectly acceptable, accusations of lollygagging or dilly-dallying often appear when time is an issue. By definition, lollygagging is a deliberate effort to delay work or finish a project, much like goldbricking in an office environment.

The origins of lollygagging may have something to do with the word loll, which generally means to lie passively or leisurely around the premises. It is possible that "lolling around" became corrupted into "lolly" first, and then attached to the archaic word "gag" to indicate the habits of lazy sheep lying around a field. To lollygag may have originally meant to sit passively while others performed chores. A lazy person can also be described as a doo-lolly in some circles, so the term lollygag is quite possibly a similar form of rural slang to describe lazy people.

Lollygagging is often ascribed to those who deliberately wander off or meander as a passive-aggressive attempt to avoid serious work or a rigid deadline. Other expressions such as dilly-dally or fiddle around also cover this same lackadaisical territory.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to InfoBloom, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

By anon279512 — On Jul 13, 2012

Loll : to idle in a lazy or indolent manner.

Gag : as in a joke.

Lollygag : to dawdle in a somewhat hilarious manner.

By seag47 — On Jun 24, 2012

We had a British exchange student live with us once, and she told us that what we call popsicles, they call “ice lollies.” I guess this is in reference to the lollipop, since you suck on both of them.

I once used the term “lollygag” in front of her, and she said that it sounded like I was referring to someone choking on an ice lolly. She did tell me that as a child, she often would be so enthusiastic when her mother gave her one that she would cram it too far into her mouth and gag a bit, so this word brought back memories for her.

I imagine this word would sound weird to someone from a country where many terms mean different things from what they refer to over here. I would probably be surprised at a lot of the British terms if I visited there.

By wavy58 — On Jun 24, 2012

I've only heard my grandparents use this term. I really haven't heard any younger adults use it, and I think it is generally regarded as an old term.

My grandparents say a lot of things you just don't hear anymore, like “good grief!” when they are frustrated or “fiddlesticks!” when they are angry. The word “lollygag” fits right into their vocabulary, because it sounds just about as weird as everything else they say.

I watched some shows on television from the 50's and 60's, and the actors said a lot of the same words. My grandparents are stuck in this time, and it makes me wonder if I will be using outdated words on my grandkids someday.

By StarJo — On Jun 23, 2012

@shell4life – I used to get so mad at my husband, Larry, for lollygagging when there were so many things we needed to get done. I used to spell out the letters of his name and attach words to them that referenced laziness. I would start out with “L is for lollygag...”

Then, I learned that he has ADD. So, it really isn't his fault that he lollygags, and I guess I can't technically call what he does lollygagging anymore, since it isn't intentional.

He really has no sense of urgency like I do. He can't feel the pressure of time slipping by, and he often gets distracted for hours by things that have no relation to what he was supposed to be doing.

He's on medication now, so it isn't as bad as it was. Still, he just doesn't have that natural internal clock that lets him know that time is disappearing.

By shell4life — On Jun 22, 2012

Lollygaggers make me so angry! I always feel like I'm running out of time, and I'm always in a rush. If I have to depend on someone else to get something done, I become infuriated if they lollygag.

I can't understand how they don't feel the pressure of a time limit the way I do. I feel every precious second ticking away, and it seems that I never have time to just sit down and enjoy life anymore.

How anyone other than a child can lollygag and not feel panicky is beyond me. I'm sure I might have done it as a kid, but with each passing year, I feel that time is slipping away from me a little faster, and to lollygag now would throw me into a panic attack.

By turquoise — On Jun 22, 2012

@burcidi-- There is an entry in my dictionary for lollygag dated 1868 which says "to flirt or kiss!" That means that the meaning of lollygag has changed a lot since it was first used. I can't see the connection between laziness and flirting and I've never heard anyone use "lollygag" in a romantic sense.

Doesn't "lolly" also mean tongue? So maybe that's where the original use of "lollygag" came from. It must have been used to talk about courting and flirting. But how did that end up changing into laziness? Strange, isn't it?

By burcidi — On Jun 21, 2012

@anon232358-- That's interesting, I've never heard that before!

I'm an English teacher and I know that lollygag is commonly used, especially in the Southern states. But like the article said, there is no consensus on where it came from. There is also no consensus on whether the original is "lollygag" or "lallygag."

I personally think that it has to do with "loblolly" which is another commonly used word in the South. It means a thick gruel or porridge. You know how porridge falls really slowly and heavily? I think it's a good metaphor for someone who is lollygagging because of how the person will start moving more slowly to avoid whatever work they have to do.

I'm not sure about "-gag" but I think this is where the "lolly-" came from.

By SteamLouis — On Jun 21, 2012
@anon154586-- That's exactly what came to my mind when I heard this word! My son heard it on TV and asked, "What does lollygagging mean?" I stared at him blankly for a moment and then told him we'll look it up later, but never did! I agree the article gave a good explanation, it definitely makes sense now.

It's funny that children were mentioned in the article. Children do lollygag when they want to avoid something. That's what my son does when he wants to avoid going to bed or put his toys away. I think I'm guilty of lollygagging as much as him though!

I work from home and on some days, I waste so much time doing completely unrelated things to avoid work! I also lollygag when the dishes or when the laundry is waiting for me. I guess when it comes to lollygagging, there is no age limit!

By anon232358 — On Nov 30, 2011

I would venture to say that lollygagging stems from the Lollard of the 13th-14th centuries who opposed the Roman Church and followed Wycliff and were called Lollards because they were accused of being lazy and not working because of their religious beliefs and practices.

By anon154586 — On Feb 21, 2011

We came across this question at work one day and i was thinking, "I wonder where they got the word lollygag because it has nothing to do with a lolly pop or gagging on a lolly pop so where did they get it?" Well you explained how they might have got the word and it was better than my explanation. Thanks.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick


As a frequent contributor to InfoBloom, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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