what does the phrase 'willy nilly' mean?
how often is it used in spoken or written english? I looked it up in several dictionary but can't quite understand it.
It literally means "will I, ne will I", i.e. "whether I want it or not". It's become generalised to "whether the people who are involved want it to happen or not" and thus also "uncontrollably, without order".
The word "ne" was a very common word in Mediæval English. One would put "ne" in front verbs if one way writing/saying a negative sentence. Many of these "ne"s go combined with the base verb hence forming new negative verbs, e.g. "ne is" = "nys", "ne was" = "nas", "ne woot" = "noot". The word "nilly" is a survivour.
More typos: "The word 'ne' was very common in Mediæval English. One would put 'ne' in front of verbs if one way writing/saying a negative sentence."
I wonder if this has not got some connections with Latin, Nolens volens.