Like the intensifier bloody, I assumed that jolly as an adverb and intensifier is not broadly used in the U.S. meaning very or extremely.

According to Oxford Online Dictionary, jolly as an adverb means as submodifier (British informal):

Very; extremely: that’s a jolly good idea.

According to Online Etymology Dictionary, the word was used first as an adjective:

c. 1300 (late 13c. as a surname), from Old French jolif "festive, merry, amorous, pretty" (12c.) of uncertain origin (cognate with Italian giulivo "merry, pleasant").


  1. When did it start to be used as an adverb and intensifier in BrE?

  2. What's the difference between jolly good and bloody good in BrE?

Edit: I am posting the deleted question again as it is relevant.

  1. Is the word never used in the U.S. as an adverb and intensifier? What would be the best counterpart of the word in AmE?
  • @Chenmunka I deleted the third question. Does it look better?
    – user140086
    Jan 5, 2016 at 18:08
  • 3
    Have a 'jolly holiday'! Irrelevantly, in AmE 'jolly' almost only ever occurs colocated with 'Santa'
    – Mitch
    Jan 5, 2016 at 19:11
  • @Mitch Thanks for your comment. Can you consider posting it as an answer? I deleted a question about the difference between BrE and AmE.
    – user140086
    Jan 5, 2016 at 19:18
  • I don't understand. Why would I consider positing my note about AmE usage of the word 'jolly' when your entire question is about BrE, especially since you've removed the one thing that mentions AmE?
    – Mitch
    Jan 5, 2016 at 21:49
  • @Mitch I edited the post to put the question No. 3 back.
    – user140086
    Jan 6, 2016 at 7:41

2 Answers 2

  1. The word jolly has fourteen OED adjectival senses plus some sub-senses. Adverbially, it is sense 2a which you are discussing here:

2a. Qualifying an adj. or adv.; orig. appreciatively, then ironically, with intensive force: Extremely, very. Now colloq.

Examples of this sense were present from the 16th century:

1549 Coverdale et al. tr. Erasmus Paraphr. Newe Test. II. Phil. iii. f. viiv, I thought my selfe a iolye fortunate man [L. pulchre mihi videbar felix], aswell for the nobylitie of my kyndred..as also for my strayte obseruyng of ye law.

  1. The essential difference between this way of using jolly and bloody is that the latter, a much stronger intensifier, is a swear-word, and considered offensive in some circles.

  2. The word is never used that way in AmE. It is rarely used at all in AmE even as an adjective except in collocations with respect to Santa Claus and related Christmas things. (point 3 contributed by @Mitch, by way of edit)

  • 2
    Another important difference is that jolly good is a dated/declining usage, whereas bloody good is becoming increasingly common. The fact that bloody hasn't yet overtaken jolly as an intensifier is just because written sources have a tendency to underrepresent "coarse vernacular". I'm sure it's already far more common in real (spoken) language. Jan 5, 2016 at 18:48
  • How 'bout usage of phrases like, "You'd jolly well better be home by eight"? Declining as well?
    – Jim
    Jan 5, 2016 at 22:17
  • @Jim The use of jolly is not perhaps so much declining as changing. The example you quote probably is in decline, but nowadays people use the word in other ways. For example you hear about someone going out on a jolly - often for something like sneaking out of work, ostensibly on employer's business, but in reality because it's more fun than sticking around the office.
    – WS2
    Jan 5, 2016 at 23:41
  • @Jim - as an intensifier I'd say yes, across the board.
    – Dan
    Jan 6, 2016 at 8:25
  • @Mitch Apologies - deleted comment.
    – WS2
    Jan 6, 2016 at 14:25

'Jolly' - is an intensifier. Although it is used today in the UK with simple and non-ironic intent ('that's jolly nice of you...'). It is also used in theatre/comedy to flag a particular class of (ridiculous) cholmondley-warner-ish Englishness.

Bloody - is also an intensifier, cruder and without the cultural baggage. Bloody is very common and relatively classless.

According to the OED both jolly and bloody have been used as intensifiers since the mid-1500s.

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