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A short-vowel variant of Middle English sēlī ‎(blessed; good; innocent; weak; guileless; pitiful; lowly; punctual),[1] from an Old English word reconstructed as *sǣliġ ‎(blessed) but attested only as ġesǣliġ, supposedly from Proto-Germanic *sēlīgaz from *sēliz.



silly ‎(comparative sillier, superlative silliest)

  1. (chiefly Scotland, obsolete) Blessed, particularly:
    1. Good; pious.
      • a. 1450, Seven Sages, l. 1361:
        The sylyman lay and herde,
        And hys wyf answerd.
    2. Holy.
  2. (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.
      • 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.
      • 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.
      • a. 1500, Robert Henryson translating Aesop, "Two Mice":
        Ane sillie scheill vnder ane erdfast stane
      • 1595, William Shakespeare, The third Part of King Henry the Sixt, vvith the death of the Duke of Yorke, Act III, Scene iii, l. 93:
        ...A pettigree
        Of threescore and two yeares a sillie time,
        To make prescription for a kingdomes worth.
      • 1907, Transactions of the Highland & Agricultural Society, 19, 172:
        It is naturally very poor, ‘silly’ land.
    4. Weak, frail; flimsy (use concerning people & animals 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, l. 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?
  3. (now rural Britain, 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  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 noteEdit

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 compliment, 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, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check 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. (with 'the') The class of silly people collectively.
    • 1560, William Baldwin, The Funeralles of King Edward the Sixt:
      Repent you Leachers your dissolute lives,
      Your causeles divorsing your true wedded wives,
      Your crafty alluring the silly to sinne.
    • 1973 August 9, New Scientist, 350/2:
      The mindless and the silly are always open to being conned into believing that some new bit of technological wizardry is beneficial.
  2. (colloquial) A silly person.
    • 1807 May, Scots Magazine, 366/1:
      While they, poor sillies, bid good night,
      O' love an' bogles eerie.
  3. (affectionate, gently pejorative) A term of address.
    • 1918 September, St. Nicholas, 972/2:
      ‘Come on, silly,’ said Nannie.
  4. (colloquial) A mistake.


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


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