Saturday 8 November 2014

Willy nilly

From Christopher Tolkien's glossary to Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale: 

Medieval English possessed special negative forms of some common verbs; see nys, nas, nere, noot [ nys from ne is, is not; nas from ne was, was not; nere from ne were, were it not; noot from ne woot, I do not know]... 

The phrase 'willy nilly' still contains one: 'will I, nill I' or whether I wish it or wish it not.  


The usage appears in Arwen's tragic words beside Aragorn's death bed:

I must indeed abide the Doom of Men, whether I will or I nil: the loss and the silence.  



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I still use this.

Samson J. said...

That's interesting. I think most of us probably only know the other meaning of "willy nilly":

in a disorganized or unplanned manner; sloppily.