To 'droll on (and on)'

Rebekah rebekah.brita at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 28 22:36:04 UTC 2008

I just noticed an unfamiliar use of the word "droll" as a verb on I expose a truly embarrassing online habit in the
interest of
linguistic research).

"Saw Bill Clinton at 2:30 this afternoon leaving Nobu 57. He shook hands,
posed for pictures and kissed babies. He was in good spirits and even
listened to this woman *droll on and on* about being from Arkansas."

This seems like a straightforward mistake, confusing 'droll on' with 'drone
on', but led me to investigate other instances of 'droll' as a verb.
The OED provides 'droll on' but with a different meaning, closer to the
sense of 'droll' as an adjective:
droll, v.

    *1.* *intr.* To make sport or fun; to jest, joke; to play the buffoon.
Const. *with*, *at*, *on*, *upon*.
*Jrnl. Swed. Emb.* (1772) I. 130 Whitelocke drolled with them. *1665* EARL
OF MARLBOROUGH *Fair Warnings* 19 There was no greater argument of a foolish
and inconsiderate person, than profanely to droll at Religion. *a1678* M
ARVELL <> *Wks.* III.
333 (R.) As Killegrew buffons his master, they droll on their God, but a
much duller way. *1680* *Vind. Conforming Clergy* (ed. 2) 32 An Author..that
drolls with every thing. *1739* W.
*Fitzosb. Lett.* (1763) 227 To drole upon the established religion of a
country. *1784* COWPER<>
*Task* II. 369 He doubtless is in sport, and does but droll. *1894* R. B
RIDGES <> *Feast of
Bacchus* v. 1428 To droll on a private person.

The OED examples were unfamiliar and struck me as archaic.   But a google
search of 'drolled on' (un-tensed 'droll on' didn't return many results)
provided some contemporary examples of what (I think) are a number of
distinct uses.

1)   "Wright's autobiography, *Spilling the Beans*, just hit the
it's not going to be quite as jolly a tale as the Britishisms she
drolled on *Fat Ladies*."
I'm not sure whether 'on' is part of the verb phrase in the above sentence,
or part of a prepositional phrase with 'Fat Ladies'. The sense seems close
to the OED usage and definitely isn't confused with 'drone on'.

2) "In both math and language, two negatives, when combined,
make a positive. However," he drolled on, "in math or
language two positives never make a negative."

'Droned on' doesn't seem to be the sense here;  could 'drolled on' be
intended to mean the continuation of a droll or witty statement?

3)  Supposedly from Webster's, via Everything2:

*Droll*, v. t.

*1.*  To lead or influence by jest or trick; to banter or jest; to
cajole.    "Men that will not be reasoned into their senses, may yet be
laughed or *drolled* into them."  *L'Estrange.*


4) 'Drone' mix-ups:  "the evening drolled on"; "the day drolled on"; "the
debate drolled on".  Google provided at least several hundred instances of
'drolled on' mistaken for 'droned on' (google: "drolled on about", "droll on
and on", "the x drolled on").

Is anyone on the list familiar with verbal 'droll', especially the
construction 'droll on'?   Is this more common among British English


Rebekah B.
Bryn Mawr College '07
rebekah.brita at

The American Dialect Society -

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