Pronunciation:  The first syllables of the two words sound like `will’ and `nil’ respectively. The final `y’ in both cases is pronounced like the `i’ in `bit’ and `sit’. The main stress is on `nil’.

When you do something `willy-nilly’, you do it under compulsion. You do it whether you like it or not; you don’t really have a choice regarding the matter.

Example: Be careful. Otherwise, you will be dragged, willy-nilly, into the fight.

The expression can also be used to mean doing something in a careless or disorganised manner; doing it without any prior planning.

Example: The students rushed in and threw their bags willy-nilly into the storeroom.

The expression is a contraction of `will ye, nill ye’. `Nill’, a word that we no longer use, meant `to be unwilling’.

Source: ‘Know Your English’ ( The Hindu) -April 16, 2007


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