“Lollygag” means to fool around, dally, spend time aimlessly, or dawdle.

Here’s an apt description from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “You certainly didn’t want to be known as a lollygagger at the beginning of the 20th century. Back then, lollygag was slang for ‘fooling around’ (sexually, that is). That sense of lollygag was in use as long ago as 1868, and it probably originated as an alteration of the older lallygag. Nowadays, lollygag doesn’t usually carry such naughty connotations, but back in 1946, one Navy captain considered lollygagging enough of a problem to issue this stern warning: ‘Lovemaking and lollygagging are hereby strictly forbidden…. The holding of hands, osculation and constant embracing of WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service], corpsmen or civilians and sailors or any combination of male and female personnel is a violation of naval discipline….'”

It showed up in the US about the mid 1800s. An Iowan newspaper, the Northern Vindicator, in 1868 suggests that a lovemaking implication was around even in early days: “The lascivious lolly-gagging lumps of licentiousness who disgrace the common decencies of life by their love-sick fawnings at our public dances.” Isn’t that string of alliteration marvelous?

The Cassell Dictionary of Slang, by Jonathon Green, suggests the word may come from a dialect word lolly, meaning “tongue.” If so, it’s a close relative of lollipop, which is also thought to come from the same source.

As indicated in Merriam-Webster above, many American veterans will remember it, since it was part of the standard repertoire of insults used by NCOs to orally chastise new recruits — in this case to accuse them of fooling around or wasting time. 

The Thesaurus of American Slang describes lollygagger as, “A young man who lingers to spoon in a hallway after bringing his inamorata home.”

However, today lollygag generally means wandering off or meandering in an attempt to avoid serious work or a rigid deadline. Other expressions such as dilly-dally or fiddle express much the same thing. Children are very good at lollygagging when they don’t want to go to school or do their homework, knowing that the point of lollygagging is to waste as much time as possible without looking as though you’re lazy. This can be brought to a fine art in an office environment. 

The same applies to any construction site. It’s not unusual to see one man digging a ditch with a shovel, and three standing around supervising. At least, that’s what it looks like.

But what do I know? I’ve never dug a ditch.

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