Column: No lolling about with grammar


Question: “Hi, Grammar Guy. I read your reports on the Southside Times, which covers the south side communities of Indianapolis. Ever since I found them, I make-a-point to check out your comments every week. I cut them out, and am putting them in a binder, for reference.

As a person that enjoys tutoring the English language to Hispanics in my area, I really try to teach good grammar. The kids from the past, are picking up the ‘Street-English,’ too, so when I see them during the summer, I start noticing the changes. They use ‘duh’ for ‘the,’ ‘I seen’ for ‘I saw,’ ’di-dent’ for didn’t and etc. I really cringe at the last one.

I was using the vocabulary lists on short-vowel-sounds. We came across ‘loll.’ I told the student it was‘a period of calm in the midst of a storm or pause in music that is playing.’ Then got to the short-vowel U sounds, and saw ’lull.’ Right away I knew my mistake. I realized I did not know the word ‘loll’. I got out the dictionary to compare the 2 words.

‘Loll’ is to hang out, dangle loosely or droop. I was not familiar with this word.

I am not afraid to get out the dictionary, in front of my students, and admit ‘I don’t know.’ Mostly, I use it, to get the Spanish definition, so I can translate the English better, to them. I am retired, so this a just a fun way to use my extra time. Have been doing this for 15 years. Keep up the good work!!” – (Mrs. Clem Sare)

Answer: Thanks for the letter, Clem! Normally I wouldn’t print one this long in its entirety, but I loved your story so much I wanted to share it with my readers.

“Loll” is actually a very interesting word. In addition to the definition you provided above, there is also “angle of loll,” which in sailing is the term for a ship that cannot remain upright stably.

More interesting for us landlubbers, though, is a unique use of “loll” you’ll only find in America: “lollygag.” The Oxford English Dictionaries estimate “loll” entered the language in late Middle English – around the 1600s. But “lollygag” doesn’t show up until the 1840s, and only in America.

If you’ve ever been accused of lollygagging, you’ll know what it means: to dawdle; to fool around; to waste time. You can see how it evolved from the intransitive verb form of “loll,” which means to sit, lie or stand in a lazy, relaxed way.

We Americans love to play around with and modify the language – and that’s great. While you’re out there fighting the good fight, you may even come across the next Americanism that’ll sweep the continent. If you do … let me know!

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