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The meaning and origin of the expression: Go Doolally

Go Doolally

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Go Doolally'?

Originally 'doolally tap', meaning unbalanced state of mind.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Go Doolally'?

The spelling of dolally is fairly arbitrary and is seen as, 'go doolally', 'go doo-lally', 'go doolali' etc. This arbitrariness is due to it being an Anglicized version of an Indian place name rather than any English word.

Go DoolallyThe term is British Army slang, from the Deolali sanatorium, Marashtra, India and is first cited in Fraser & Gibbons', Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, 1925:

"Deolali tap (otherwise doolally tap), mad, off one's head. Old Army."

Frank Richards, (Francis Philip Woodruff) was a soldier in the First World War and wrote a classic account of it in Old Soldiers Never Die. Richards was also a veteran of the Indian campaign, which he wrote about in in Old Soldier Sahib, 1936:

"Time-expired men sent to Deolalie from their different units might have to wait for months before a troop-ship fetched them home... The well-known saying among soldiers when speaking of a man who does queer things, ‘Oh, he's got the Doo-lally tap,’ originated, I think, in the peculiar way men behaved owing to the boredom of that camp."

The phrase is quite archaic now, even in its 'go Doolally' form. The tap is now rarely heard, but hasn't quite died out of everyday use. Francis Marion Crawford, in his Mr. Isaacs, 1882, makes the meaning of the word clear:

"Unless I feared the tap, the bad kind of fever which infects all the country at the base of the hills."

Other phrases first cited in Fraser and Gibbons:

Jam tomorrow
Loaf of bread (head)
One over the eight

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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