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From Middle English seely, sēlī,[1] from Old English sǣliġ, ġesǣliġ (lucky, fortunate), from Proto-West Germanic *sālīg, from *sāli. Equivalent to seel (happiness, bliss) +‎ -y. Doublet of Seelie.

The semantic evolution is “lucky” → “innocent” → “naïve” → “foolish”. Compare the similar evolution of daft (originally meaning “accommodating”), and almost the reverse with nice (originally meaning “ignorant”).



silly (comparative sillier, superlative silliest)

  1. Laughable or amusing through foolishness or a foolish appearance.
    1. (of numbers, particularly prices) Absurdly large.
      • 1875 June 26, Saturday Review, 815/2:
        He cannot achieve celebrity by covering himself with diamonds... or by giving a silly price for a hack.
  2. (chiefly Scotland, obsolete) Blessed, particularly:
    1. Good; pious.
      • a. 1450, Seven Sages, line 1361:
        The sylyman lay and herde,
        And hys wyf answerd.
    2. Holy.
  3. (now chiefly Scotland and Northern England, rare) Pitiful, inspiring compassion, particularly:
    • 1556 in 1880, William Henry Turner, Selections from the Records of the City of Oxford... 1509–83, 246:
      The fire raging upon the silly Carcase.
    • 1808, John Jamieson, An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language:
      Silly... in the same sense as E. poor is often used, denoting a state which excites compassion.
    1. (now literary) Innocent; suffering undeservedly, especially as an epithet of lambs and sheep.
    2. (now literary) Helpless, defenseless.
      scared silly
      • 1539, Richard Morison translating Juan Luis Vives, Introduction to Wysedome:
        Wherfore Christe must soo moche the more instantelye be sought vpon, that he may vouchsafe to defende vs sylly wretches.
      • c. 1587–1588, [Christopher Marlowe], Tamburlaine the Great. [] The First Part [], part 1, 2nd edition, London: [] [R. Robinson for] Richard Iones, [], published 1592, OCLC 932920499; reprinted as Tamburlaine the Great (A Scolar Press Facsimile), Menston, Yorkshire; London: Scolar Press, 1973, →ISBN, Act I, scene ii:
        Ah Shepheard, pity my diſtreſſed plight,
        (If as thou ſeem’ſt, thou art ſo meane a man)
        And ſeeke not to inrich thy followers,
        By lawleſſe rapine from a ſilly maide, []
      • 1665, Thomas Manley translating Hugo Grotius, De Rebus Belgicis, 938:
        There remained fresh Examples of their Barbarism against weak Sea-men, and silly Fisher-men.
    3. Insignificant, worthless, (chiefly Scotland) especially with regard to land quality.
    4. Weak, frail; flimsy (use concerning people and animals is now obsolete).
      • 1567, John Maplet, A Greene Forest:
        Here we see that a smal sillie Bird knoweth how to match with so great a Beast.
      • 1587, Philip Sidney & al. translating Philippe de Mornay, A Woorke Concerning the Trewnesse of the Christian Religion, xxxii, 596:
        [Christ] leaueth neither Children nor kinsfolke behind him to vphold his sillie kingdome.
      • 1946 in 1971, Scottish National Dictionary, Vol. VIII, 234/3:
        That'll never grow. It's ower silly.
    5. Sickly; feeble; infirm.
      • 1636, Alexander Montgomerie, The Cherrie & the Slae, line 1512:
        To doe the thing we can
        To please...
        This silly sickly man.
      • 1818, Walter Scott, "Heart of Mid-Lothian", v:
        Is there ony thing you would particularly fancy, as your health seems but silly?
  4. (now rural UK, rare) Simple, plain, particularly:
    1. Rustic, homely.
      • 1570, John Foxe, Actes & Monumentes, Vol. II, 926/1:
        Dauid had no more but a sylie slynge, and a few stones.
    2. (obsolete) Lowly, of humble station.
      • a. 1547, the Earl of Surrey translating Publius Virgilius Maro, Certain Bokes of Virgiles Aeneis, Book II:
        The silly herdman all astonnied standes.
      • 1568, Alexander Scott, Poems, 27:
        So luvaris lair no leid suld lak,
        A lord to lufe a silly lass.
  5. Mentally simple, foolish, particularly:
    1. (obsolete) Rustic, uneducated, unlearned.
      • 1687, Archibald Lovell translating Jean de Thévenot, The Travels of Monsieur de Thevenot into the Levant, i, 2:
        From Hell (of which the silly people of the Country think the top of this hill to be the mouth).
    2. Thoughtless, lacking judgment.
    3. (Scotland) Mentally retarded.
    4. Stupefied, senseless; stunned or dazed.
      • 1829 January 17, Lancaster Gazette:
        You say you were knocked silly—was that so?
      • 1907, John Millington Synge, Playboy of the Western World, iii, 64:
        Drinking myself silly...
      • 1942, J. Chodorov & al., Junior Miss, ii, i, 113:
        Well, Judy, now that you've scared me silly, what's so important?
      • 1990, House of Cards, Season 1, Episode 2:
        I can kick this stuff any time I like. I tell you what. Get this week over, we'll go to a health farm for ten days. No drugs. No drink. And shag ourselves silly. How about that?
  6. (cricket, of a fielding position) Very close to the batsman, facing the bowler; closer than short.
    • 1862 July 4, Notts. Guardian:
      Carpenter now placed himself at silly-point for Grundy, who was playing very forward.

Usage notesEdit

Silly is usually taken to imply a less serious degree of foolishness, mental impairment, or hilarity than its synonyms.

The sense meaning stupefied is usually restricted to times when silly is used as a verb complement, denoting that the action is done so severely or repetitively that it leaves one senseless.



Derived termsEdit


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


silly (comparative sillier, superlative silliest)

  1. (now regional or colloquial) Sillily: in a silly manner.
    • 1731, Colley Cibber, Careless Husband, 7th ed., i, i, 21:
      If you did but see how silly a Man fumbles for an Excuse, when he's a little asham'd of being in Love.


silly (plural sillies)

  1. (colloquial) A silly person.
    • 1807 May, Scots Magazine, 366/1:
      While they, poor sillies, bid good night,
      O' love an' bogles eerie.
  2. (endearing, gently derogatory) A term of address.
    • 1918 September, St. Nicholas, 972/2:
      ‘Come on, silly,’ said Nannie.
  3. (colloquial) A mistake.



  1. ^ Middle English Dictionary, "sēlī (adj.)".
  • Oxford English Dictionary, ""silly, adj., n., and adv.", 2013.