General English


  • noun a pickled gherkin. This old working-class name for a bottled delicacy is still heard in London. It may be a variation of ‘olly’, a corruption of ‘olives’, to which the gherkins were likened by earlier unsophisticated eaters.
  • noun a foolish, ridiculous, clumsy and/or unsophisticated person. This word emerged from obscurity into great popularity between 1976 and 1978 and many theories as to its origin have since been advanced. What seems certain is that the word originated in working-class London usage. The word began to be used in the school playground and in the media from about 1978 (with a meaning very similar to its almost contemporary American counterpart, nerd). The term may derive from the earlier sense of a pickled gherkin (dill is a synonym in both senses) or from an obscure dialect origin (the archaic Scottish dialect waly draigle, meaning a weakling, has been proposed). Punks, who helped to popularise the expression, cited an eponymous Wally, a friend and fan of the Sex Pistols and other coevals; it also seems possible that the usage simply arose because of what was felt to be the inherent comicality of the Christian name.
  • noun a cry or chant, heard e.g. at rock concerts (particularly of the punk, post-punk, hardcore variety). This phenomenon recalls the street and playground cry ‘ollie, ollie, ollie!’ heard in London in the 1950s and 1960s and recorded in cockney use as long ago as the 1870s as a shout of recognition or derision.