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Prolly is given this definition at Wiktionary:

Clipped pronunciation of probably.

I was reading an interesting article today that claimed prolly dates from 1947 and that surprised me. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find a listed source for the claim. So how old is prolly?

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The pronunciation is undoubtedly older than that spelling in print. –  Mechanical snail Jul 9 '12 at 4:38
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3 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Writer Hugh Wiley seems to have been using it in dialogue in the 1920's. From his 1924 book The Prowler (via Google Books)

Dese folks is prolly dem bank boys whut buys all de fruit farms and makes dem yaller orange preserve.

He uses it in his 1922 book Lily as well.

The characters using prolly in these books are supposedly speaking in the African-American Vernacular. Depending on how good an ear Wiley had for dialect, this may indicate prolly first arose in Southern or African-American speech.

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+1 for finding the word in the 1920's –  b.roth Jun 6 '11 at 14:10
    
Nicely found. I just started using 'prolly' in txt and online chat about 10 years ago because I'm a bone-idle two-fingered keyboard pecker, but until now I've never even thought about actually enunciating it. I'm also an appalling lazy speaker though, and I normally only bother to articulate one of the two b's (something like "praw-blee" is all you get from me unless I'm on my best linguistic behaviour! :-) –  FumbleFingers Jun 6 '11 at 15:33
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When I imagine that quote being read aloud, it seems to work just as well in the Philadelphia dialect! –  ESultanik Jun 6 '11 at 22:54
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The three oldest occurrences in the Corpus of Historical American English are from 1947, 1952 and 1954 (see below). This therefore supports what the article claims. However, as @Peter Shor's answer shows, the word is actually even older (from 1922 at least).

(...) up with the rest of the cows at milkin time and he knowed she was prolly out there on the gully some'eres with a fresh-born calf, waitin for it to (...)

Harpers Magazine (194712) pages: 498-505 (1947)


(...) They say he wouldn't speak to Ma for a month after. He'd prolly have disinheritedme, seeing these, or shot Mott for a Texas traitor.(...) "

Giant, Edna Ferber (1952)


I'm quite aware that you come from a higher level of society. You prolly made a debut and all that.

Play BadSeed, Maxwell Anderson (1954)


Note that as Google NGrams shows, the word gained popularity in the Internet age:

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Ironically, your own argument disproves you, because you can see in the Google search's first page a use of prolly in the correct sense from 1941. It's not much earlier qualitatively, but I didn't dig in the 19th century uses at all. It seems this needs further research. books.google.com/… –  SurDin Jun 6 '11 at 13:53
    
@SurDin There's a note about that in my post. I'm not saying that the first occurrence was in 1947. My post was to show that the word already existed in the 1940's. –  b.roth Jun 6 '11 at 13:57
    
@Peter Shor just found in Google Books a book from the 1920's where the word was used. I updated my answer to point to his. –  b.roth Jun 6 '11 at 14:09
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1947 citation for prolly

you might be looking for this 1947 citation?

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