Real Talk, in which I explain why we say weird things like “plugged nickel” or “cat’s pajamas.” Also, a place where I can send my boyfriend when he asks the meaning of weird phrases like “plugged nickel” or “cat’s pajamas.”
“I unearth the etymology of phrases willy-nilly!”
It seems that willy-nilly, as we know it, is a recent phenomenon. The original meaning of the contraction “will ye, nill ye” was, basically, “Whether you want to or not.” The haphazard meaning we know and love came much later.
Fun fact: “Shilly shally” seems to be related to willy-nilly, eventually shouldering the burden of indicating dithering. It basically means “Shall I, shall I not?” with “shilly” added because people just love to add rhyming words to phrases. Okey-dokey?