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I am looking for a phrase that would fit this (kind of) pattern:

  1. "You know how my friends are, they always XXXXXX so I can't expect an immediate answer."


  2. "At the restaurant, when I was asked what I wanted to order, I XXXXXX before finally ordering the steak."


  3. "Stop XXXXXX, this has to be done right now!"

So in general, it should describe someone as being indecisive, taking too long to make up their mind, hesitating before actually committing to something etc...

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12 Answers 12

20

I have seen all of these words used : dilly-dally, dither, vacillate, waver

Also a nice idiom: beat around the bush

dilly-dally: to waste time, especially by indecision

don't dillydally on the way to the store

dither: to delay taking action because you are not sure about what to do

She did not dither about what to do next.

vacillate: to repeatedly change your opinions or desires

She has vacillated on this issue.

waver: to go back and forth between choices or opinions : to be uncertain about what you think about something or someone

people who are still wavering between the two candidates

beat around the bush: to avoid answering a question; to stall; to waste time

Stop beating around the bush and answer my question.

Edit: Found the following related idioms.

sit on the fence:

Fig. not to take sides in a dispute; not to make a clear choice between two possibilities.

(Fig. on the image of someone straddling a fence, representing indecision.)

When Jane and Tom argue, it is best to sit on the fence and not make either of them angry. No one knows which of the candidates Joan will vote for. She's sitting on the fence.

cold feet: noun, Informal. 1. a loss or lack of courage or confidence; an onset of uncertainty or fear: She got cold feet when asked to sing a solo.

  • 1
    Related, not enough to be it's own answer: "Waffle" "Stop waffling, this has to be done right now!" – TecBrat Jul 26 '16 at 15:27
  • 4
    My vote for this answer was specifically for 'dither'. I think it better fits the informal nature of most of the example sentences than 'waver' or 'vacillate'. A variation on 'dilly-dally' that I'd suggest is 'shilly-shally'. I think of 'dilly-dally' meing marticularly about travelling slowly and indirectly, or being slow to start moving, definitely movement related, where 'shilly-shally' is more in the order of 'vacillating'. – Spagirl Jul 26 '16 at 15:34
  • beat around the bush +1 – USER_8675309 Jul 26 '16 at 18:45
  • As an American (Kansas), dither sounds rather prissy - and vacillate is not something I would ever use in conversation (but perhaps in formal or technical writing) – JPhil Jul 26 '16 at 23:19
13

"Hem and haw" would be appropriate.

Wikitionary:

To discuss, deliberate, or contemplate rather than taking action or making up one's mind.
'If you hem and haw long enough, someone else will do it first.'

Merriam-Webster:

To take a long time before making a decision about what to do.
'The city council hemmed and hawed for a year before deciding to build the new school.'

Dictionary.com:

Be hesitant and indecisive.

This is how I would use it in the sentences in question:

  1. You know how my friends are, they always hem and haw so I can't expect an immediate answer.

  2. At the restaurant, when I was asked what I wanted to order, I hemmed and hawed before finally ordering the steak.

  3. Stop hemming and hawing, this has to be done right now!

  • Note: In Br. Eng. it's "humming and hawing". – Ste Jul 27 '16 at 9:16
8

I would say of the suggestions people have submitted, the word "deliberated" would fit your initial 3 examples best:

  1. "You know how my friends are, they always deliberate so I can't expect an immediate answer."

  2. "At the restaurant, when I was asked what I wanted to order, I deliberated before finally ordering the steak."

  3. "Stop deliberating, this has to be done right now!"

Deliberating suggests unhurried decision-making. Other options such as "hem & haw" or "vacillate" infer indecision between 2 options, whereas "procrastinate" is merely to put off. "Deliberate" indicates that options are purposefully being considered, albeit slowly.

The answer "Hem & Haw" from @Idos above is also suitable. Depends on whether you wish to convey considered thought, or more casual indecision.

8

One possible answer is waffle. Used as a verb, it may mean:

Merriam-Webster:

to be unable or unwilling to make a clear decision about what to do

"Stop waffling and pick a movie!"

"I don't know which side he's on. When I asked him, he waffled."

One may "waffle between" several choices.

If the problem isn't indecisiveness, but rather wasting time, you might consider dawdle.

Cambridge Dictionary:

to do something very slowly, as if you do not want to finish it

"I missed the train because I was dawdling."

"Get to it and don't dawdle!"

6

Some colourful (Australian slang) options:

farnarkling [+about/around] (alternative spelling: farnarkeling)

the group activity whereby everyone sits around discussing the need to "do something" but nothing actually happens - Urbandictionary.com

eg:

  1. "You know how my friends are, they always farnarkle about so I can't expect an immediate answer."
  2. "At the restaurant, when I was asked what I wanted to order, I farnarkled around before finally ordering the steak."
  3. "Stop farnarkeling, this has to be done right now!"

(piss-) farting [+about/around]

Pissfart:

to waste time; "dawdle". - onlineslangdictionary.com

Farting Around

The act or process of wandering aimlessly with no particular goal. - urbandictionary.com

eg:

  1. "You know how my friends are, they always fart around so I can't expect an immediate answer."
  2. "At the restaurant, when I was asked what I wanted to order, I piss-farted about before finally ordering the steak."
  3. "Stop pissfarting, this has to be done right now!"

Very similar to hem and haw is um and ah:

to be unable to decide what to do in a situation

eg: Stop umming and ahing and just get on with it. - macmillandictionary.com

  • 2
    American English also uses "farting around" along with other similar phrases (in increasing order of not-safe-for-work-ness) futzing around, dicking around, fucking around. Virtually always with "around" in the US, I believe. These mostly mean "wasting time" more than specifically referring to indecisiveness. – 1006a Jul 26 '16 at 20:10
4

In Scots English, there is 'to swither'

From OED, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/swither

  • (Verb) Be uncertain as to which course of action to choose
3

You might consider procrastinate or one of its synonyms:

delay or postpone action; put off doing something.

"it won't be this price for long, so don't procrastinate"

synonyms: delay, put off doing something, postpone action, defer action, be dilatory, use delaying tactics, stall, temporize, drag one's feet/heels, take one's time, play for time, play a waiting game

"fear of failure often causes people to procrastinate"

"You know how my friends are, they always procrastinate so I can't expect an immediate answer."

"At the restaurant, when I was asked what I wanted to order, I procrastinated before finally ordering the steak."

"Stop procrastinating, this has to be done right now!"

  • 2
    I don't think procrastinate fits here. It implies that you're doing other things and not even thinking about the task at hand. – jpmc26 Jul 26 '16 at 14:15
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    Agreed @jpmc26, procrastinating indicates putting off decision making, rather than taking time to consider options. – cleverbit Jul 26 '16 at 14:34
  • @jpmc26 Like I said, one of its synonyms might be a better fit. OP's sentences seem to be looking for two different words. Procrastinating might not fit the first two, but it first the last one. Figured I'd provide it as an option for people looking for similar words in the future. – Kevin Workman Jul 26 '16 at 17:27
  • It fits the sentence, but it doesn't convey the meaning the OP describes. – jpmc26 Jul 26 '16 at 17:52
  • @jpmc26 Like I said, one of its synonyms might be a better fit, and I was providing an alternate option that fit the examples. Might not be exactly what OP was looking for, but might help somebody else in the future. Have a good day. – Kevin Workman Jul 26 '16 at 17:58
2

There are probably better options already stated, but to add a little (possibly chiefly British) variety to these:

The verb "to potter" and its associated constructions would work well here.

Sense 4:

To occupy oneself in an ineffectual or trifling way; to work or act in a feeble or desultory manner; to dabble in or with something.

or 5:

To move or go about in a casual, unsystematic, or unhurried way, doing desultory tasks or making unsystematic investigations. Freq. with about, around.

the OED

So in your examples it would be

"You know how my friends are, they always potter about so I can't expect an immediate answer."

"At the restaurant, when I was asked what I wanted to order, I potter before finally ordering the steak."

"Stop pottering around, this has to be done right now!"

2

I like Lollygag personally, mainly because it fits all 3 cases you presented.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lollygag

1."You know how my friends are, they always lollygag so I can't expect an immediate answer." 2."At the restaurant, when I was asked what I wanted to order, I lollygag before finally ordering the steak." 3."Stop lollygagging, this has to be done right now!"

1

to agonise about something -

Undergo great mental anguish through worrying about something: I didn’t agonize over the problem - http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/agonize

Synonyms:

worry, fret, fuss, upset oneself, rack one's brains, wrestle with oneself, be worried, be anxious, feel uneasy, exercise oneself, brood, muse; mull over, dwell on, contemplate, ruminate, chew over, puzzle over, speculate, weigh up, turn over in one's mind;


  1. "You know how my friends are, they always agonising over their answers so I can't expect an immediate answer."


  2. "At the restaurant, when I was asked what I wanted to order, I agonized about options finally ordering the steak."


  3. "Stop agonising, this has to be done right now!"

1

equivocate:

Verb: equivocate i'kwi-vu,keyt

Be deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead or withhold information

"Producers equivocate about projects, directors equivocate about stories, and agents equivocate about terms";

  • beat around the bush, tergiversate, prevaricate, palter, beat about the bush, weasel

-- WordWeb on line

0

Among the answers you're looking for is "wishy-washy":

not having or showing strong ideas or beliefs about something : weak and not able or not willing to act

protected by Kit Z. Fox Aug 1 '16 at 12:24

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