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Willy-nilly is an adverb that means without care or planning. Synonyms of willy-nilly include haphazardly, random, carelessly.

It can also mean something is done with or without a person’s approval. This definition is somewhat out-dated and related to the phrases original meaning. In the past willy-nilly meant willingly or unwillingly; or without consideration for those involved.

Today nil means zero or nothing, but archaically, nill meant the opposite of will. In the sense that a person was unwilling or a person refused something. The old phrase will you nill you is most famously used by William Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew.


What happens at, say an auction, when a guy arrives pushing a wheelbarrow of money, handing it out willy-nilly? [Yakima Herald]

It is because the DPSUs have stayed stuck at the screwdriver technology level that the department of defence production in MoD has evolved a procurement system willy-nilly funnelling billions of dollars to foreign vendors with minimal transfer of technology (ToT). [New Indian Express]

I don’t do this willy-nilly; usually I have a reason. [Oregon Live]

So, there was no escaping the Clean India campaign. Willy-nilly, I picked up the broom and started from my own bedroom. [Hindustan Times]

But willy-nilly, Modi has accepted the lack of leadership at the state level in the BJP. [Free Press Journal]

Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife, your dowry ‘greed on,
And will you, nill you, I will marry you. [Shakespeare]

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