Apparently from roll with -y, reduplicated with change of the initial consonant perhaps influenced by poll (“head, scalp”). Attested (sometimes spelled rowle-powle) since the seventeenth century. Compare rolly, which is attested since the nineteenth century.
roly-poly (comparative more roly-poly, superlative most roly-poly)
- (colloquial, often childish or humorous) Short and plump.
1867, Grace Ramsay, A Woman’s Trials, page 157:
She had been waiting for the little roly-poly man to tumble and roll along the deck, and had been mentally indulging her sense of humour on the scene.
- By rolling, so as to roll.
1908, Beatrix Potter, The Roly-Poly Pudding:
Tom Kitten bit and spat, and mewed and wriggled; and the rolling-pin went roly-poly, roly; roly, poly, roly.
- (obsolete) Directly, without hesitating.
roly-poly (countable and uncountable, plural roly-polys or roly-polies)
- (colloquial) A short, plump person.
1893, “Jamaica Church Ladies’ Association in England”, in The Net, page 190:
In a few weeks ‘our baby’ was a regular roly-poly, fat and frolicsome. Has she forgotten all the neglect? God grant it.
1991 , Amy Fay, Music-study in Germany, page 80:
The German women are plump roly-polies, as a general rule, and it is probably in consequence of this continual “strengthening.”
- (Britain) A steamed pudding made from suet pastry containing jam or fruit.
1869, Emma Jane Worboise, The Fortunes of Cyril Denham, page 190:
Dinner began and proceeded till the last piece of the roly-poly pudding was consumed, though not by Cyril
1873, “Rose Anna: Regina”, in Judy, Or the London Serio-comic Journal, volume 12, page 233:
This is, indeed, an awful meal […] and there is a detestable, indigestible, unswallowable jam roly-poly to follow.
- (gymnastics) A forward roll or sideways roll.
1994, Patty Claycomb, Bear Hugs for Circle Time, page 14:
When you are finished with circle time, dismiss your children by helping each one do a roly-poly roll (a somersault) and roll away to their next activity.
1997, Pauline Wetton, Physical Education in the Early Years, page 57:
A ‘roly poly’ roll or a tucked sideways roll will give the children just as much pleasure and also enough exercise and knowlege of turning and rolling at this stage of their development.
- A terrestrial crustacean of suborder Oniscidea; pill bug, potato bug or sowbug.
1995, Henry Robison and Robert Allen, Only in Arkansas: A Study of the Endemic Plants and Animals of the State, page 45:
Terrestrial isopods, commonly known as pill bugs, sow bugs, or roly-polys, are generally familiar to most of us.
1997, Clark Williamson and Ronald Allen, Adventures of the Spirit, page 76:
From the window, she sees them discover a colony of roly-polies (tiny gray bugs that roll into miniature balls in the presence of danger).
- A toy that rights itself when pushed over.
1950 November 27, “American-Made Toys [advertisement]”, in Life, page 79:
BOBO The Roly Poly Clown ¶ Punch him — beat him — tackle him — Bobo will bounce right back with a smile!
1971, Arden J. Newsome, Crafts and Toys from around the World, page 67:
Among the many adaptations of the Japanese tumbler toy are those known to American children as a roly-poly and a Kelly.
- (uncountable) An old game in which balls are bowled into holes or thrown into hats placed on the ground.
1890, John Champlin and Arthur Bostwick, The Young Folk’s Cyclopædia of Games and Sports:
Roly Poly is a very old English game. It is sometimes played in England with hats instead of holes, and it is then often called Egg Hat.
1930, Ellsworth Collings, Psychology for Teachers, page 185:
“We’d have to play outdoors though,” continued Kenneth. “Don’t you see it’s raining.” ¶ “Gee, we can play Roly Poly,” argued John.
a short fat or rotund person
A toy that rights itself when pushed over
- Japanese: 起き上がり小法師 (おきあがりこぼし, okiagari-koboshi; おきあがりこぼうし, okiagari-kobōshi)
- Korean: 오뚝이 (ko) (ottug-i)
- Polish: wańka-wstańka m
- Portuguese: (Brazil) joão-bobo (pt) m, (Portugal) sempre-em-pé m
- Romanian: hopa-mitică f
- Russian: неваля́шка (ru) f (nevaljáška), ва́нька-вста́нька (ru) m (vánʹka-vstánʹka)
- Rusyn: ва́нька-ста́нька m (vánʹka-stánʹka)
- Spanish: tentetieso (es) m, tentempié (es) m, mono porfiado (es) m, muñeco porfiado (es) m, porfiado (es) m, (Andalusia) siempretieso (es) m
- Swedish: vippdocka c
- Thai: ตุ๊กตาล้มลุก (dtúk-dtaa lóm lúk)
- Turkish: hacı yatmaz
- Ukrainian: неваляшка f (nevaljaška), іванець-киванець m (ivanecʹ-kyvanecʹ), невгамовка f (nevhamovka), іван-побиван m (ivan-pobyvan), покиванка f (pokyvanka), нелягайка f (neljahajka)
- Vietnamese: con lật đật
a sideways roll, sideways rolling