Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Doolally - Its Crazy Indian Origin

A young woman pulling a funny face
She's not a soldier, she's not Indian, but she's definitely doolally
(photo by Holly Clark)


Adjective. Slang (originally military). Early 20th century.
[Deolali, a town near Bombay.]

Originally (now less usual) doolally tap [Urdu from Persian tap fever].
Temporarily insane; deranged; feeble-minded, simple, foolish.

Many years ago, my mother did business with a certain Mr Lally who, seeing as he was a bit nuts, she was always nervous about calling Mr Doolally by mistake. The inevitable problem, of course, was that the more she fretted about what would be quite a profound negotiatory blunder, the more likely it was to become a self-fulfulling prophecy.

For those unfamiliar with this rather delightful Britishism, doolally means a bit nuts, crazy, bonkers, and so forth, and is accompanied by a fittingly  loopy etymology. Deolali is a town near Bombay, India, and it was a staging point for British colonial troops arriving to and leaving from the continent. As well as the military post, Deolali also housed a sanatorium, and it is said that soldiers barracked there (and particularly those who were waiting to absquatulate back to Blighty) would go a bit doolally tap - that is, a bit nuts.

You don't really hear doolally tap anymore, but to say that someone has gone a bit doolally is still well understood throughout Britain. I never found out if Mum did make her little bêtise, but considering that she was a bit doolally herself, I rather think (and hope) that she did.

Do please billet your loopiest comments in the barrack-box below.


  1. I always thought doolally was an Irish expression and 'doolally tap' an Irish dance. But then people often tap their head to indictate that someone is doolally.
    Taking the Michael out of your Mum is a risky exercise.

    1. A few people have messaged me saying that they thought 'doolally' was an Irish word - it certainly does sound Irish. And another person on Twitter said that The Doolally Tap would be a great name for a pub, and I rather agree.

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