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In Mesopotamian Arabic, the the idiom "khirri mirri" (خِرِّي مِرِّي) is used for those who haphazardly enter and exit a building like they own the place - Basically "in and out" in a disorganized or disorderly way, without much thinking and obedience to rules.

"Khiri miri" (خري مري) literally means "going in and out without permission". But in practicality, Arabic speakers use it to indicate chaos/no rules, or the instability and the ineffectiveness of a person's actions or movement.

In Arabic, it describes, and can define, many different situations, including, say, a disorganized wedding party or a concert where people don't follow rules. Is there a similar term or idiom in the English language?

An example (one of many examples, since the Arabic idiom can be used for many contexts):

  • Jenny: I'll go and see the king of England tomorrow at his office, then I'll head to the market.
  • John: You can't just go in and out of his office, "khiri miri" ("insert English idiom"). He's the king of England!

Example 2:

  • Adam: Gee, school today was [khiri mirri/insert English term]. No rules, students going in and out, teacher sitting on her desk doing nothing.

Here is a video where "kheri meri" is used in the Aramaic language, with English subs (3:08 mark, but the video is already time linked):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3AkTl83weg&start=188

For etymological reference, Khiri is from the Arabic khareer/خرير meaning leak. And miri is from the Arabic mr/مر meaning passing by.

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    The main meaning of willy-nilly is 'whether you want to or not' from the early modern English will I, nill I (whether I'm willing or unwilling), although some dictionaries give the 'in a disorganised manner' definition first. Sep 8, 2023 at 7:13
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    A revolving door metaphor Sep 9, 2023 at 10:00
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    @E.Groeg - Online dictionaries have the business definition (re: high turnover rate) but little to nothing else in this context. Sep 10, 2023 at 4:02
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    "Without a by your leave", maybe
    – Richard
    Sep 10, 2023 at 9:37
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    Relatedly, for a different sense of someone who "enters and exits without... [an] order": lookie-loo (or looky-loo). This applies to entering a store or otherwise feinting at a business transaction with no serious intent to carry out the transaction. I'm commenting rather than answering because it doesn't fit a non-business example such as pestering a monarch. Sep 11, 2023 at 17:18

15 Answers 15

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Willy-nilly may fill the bill, though Merriam-Webster gives as its first sense “by compulsion : without choice.” The other sense it gives is “in a haphazard or spontaneous manner.”

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  • Chambers has willy-nilly as haphazardly (adv) or haphazard (adj) as one meaning, and this is the meaning people would assume in every day speech, rather than the original "willing or unwilling, whether one wishes or not". It works perfectly in the example you gave. Sep 11, 2023 at 13:19
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    Merriam-Webster has traditionally given definitions in historical order, rather than trying to put the "primary" meaning (as if there typically were one) first. For the example sentence, "You can't just go in and out of his office willy-nilly" is absolutely natural and has the benefit of having a matching rhythm. Sep 11, 2023 at 15:21
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I'd suggest changing your focus to the verb: how about

"You can't just waltz into his office"

Obviously a waltz is literally a dance, but Oxford Languages provided by Google offers this sense for the word as well:

move or act lightly, casually, or inconsiderately.
"you can't just waltz in and expect to make a mark"

I'd say for your context, someone just casually strolling in without permission to someplace he has no business being, this expression is perfect.

Update: I saw a remark form the original question asker saying that this did not quite fit due to the emphasis on going frequent coming and going. In this case, I think you can use "waltz in and out" and your meaning will be understood. I tried a search for this phrase and found some dialog from a television program that I think will make my point:

Noah: I want to see Joanie.

Luisa: You can't just waltz in and out of her life when it's convenient.

I also found an editorial entitled "Hinduism isn't a country club one can waltz in and out of" arguing something about how one cannot convert away from Hinduism and convert back.

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    @E.Groeg Have you seen (or even danced) a waltz?
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 9, 2023 at 16:23
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    @E.Groeg I have revised the answer slightly to address your concern.
    – Casey
    Sep 10, 2023 at 3:34
  • @Casey Thanks! A nice and informative revise!
    – E.Groeg
    Sep 10, 2023 at 7:05
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Helter skelter

Has a nice sound, and means the same "without any particular order". Often written hyphenated: helter-skelter:

In undue haste, confusion, or disorder Merriam-Webster

"You can't just go in and out of his office helter-skelter. He's the king of England!"

See also: running from place to place and (WRT the SWR tag) Is "helter skelter" a word or two words or two non-words?

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    I'm not sure this has the back-and-forth implication that the OP is looking for.
    – Barmar
    Sep 8, 2023 at 20:25
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    I appreciate the answers. The Arabic idiom is rather broad in its definitions. But yes, specifically speaking, there is a "back and forth" sense in the core meaning. I remember one Orthodox bishop said something like "You can't go to Jesus, khirri mirri. You need a saint to get you to him." (in his native Aramaic, which borrows some Arabic words).
    – E.Groeg
    Sep 9, 2023 at 14:34
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    Given Manson and company I avoid this term like the plague.
    – Lambie
    Sep 11, 2023 at 17:23
  • @Lambie Wow, that's horrible stuff! I'll probably avoid it too, now. Somehow I didn't remember that story, although I did know about the song that they borrowed from. Granted, I was only born in '89...
    – Conrado
    Sep 11, 2023 at 18:12
  • Ah, yes, babies may not remember. :) Cheers, luv.
    – Lambie
    Sep 11, 2023 at 18:14
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Commonly used expressions for conveying that one has (or more usually has not) licence (or the ability) to act freely in a certain regard are:

  • at will [phrase]: when and as one chooses

                                        Some yoga practitioners can slow their heart rates down at will.

Synonyms

  • as you please
  • at your pleasure
  • at your desire
  • at your whim
  • at your inclination

[Collins]

  • You can't just go in and out of his office at will. He's the king of England!
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  • Also "at your leisure"
    – Stef
    Sep 10, 2023 at 9:12
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Another phrase that fits the 'chaotic' part of the question is:

higgledy-piggledy

in a confused, disordered, or random manner

from Merriam-Webster

Example:

People had already been marching in and out of his office all higgledy-piggledy the entire morning.

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  • Nice one! Keep it up! 😎
    – E.Groeg
    Sep 12, 2023 at 2:40
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This one is slightly old-fashioned:

You can't just go in and out of his office, without so much as a by-your-leave. He's the king of England!

Cambridge Dictionary has

without so much as a by-your-leave
without asking for permission

That's twice now he's just walked in here without so much as a by-your-leave and picked a book off the shelf!

Farlex has

by your leave
With your permission.

The four developers just up and left without a by-your-leave to go set up their own company.

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  • I then noticed that @Richard commented this suggestion. Sep 12, 2023 at 11:43
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Harum-scarum is a colloquial/slang reduplication with a similar range of meanings and can also be used as different parts of speech like the Arabic khirri mirri, such as a noun (for a person or an action), an adjective, and an adverb. It covers different senses like disorderly, reckless, rash, unruly, wild. It can be a bit old-fashioned but it is still used.

adjective

  1. reckless; rash; irresponsible:
    He had a harum-scarum youth.

  2. disorganized; uncontrolled.

adverb

  1. recklessly; wildly:
    He ran harum-scarum all over the place.

noun

  1. a reckless person.

  2. reckless or unpredictable behavior or action.

dictionary.com

Pell-mell is another reduplication very similar in meaning, but it lacks the noun usage for a person. It still covers a range of usages and parts of speech. The usage is more common than harum-scarum per OED's frequency band.

adverb

  1. in disorderly, headlong haste; in a recklessly hurried manner.

  2. in a confused or jumbled mass, crowd, manner, etc.:
    The crowd rushed pell-mell into the store when the doors opened.

adjective

  1. indiscriminate; disorderly; helter-skelter:
    a pell-mell dash after someone.

  2. overhasty or precipitate; rash:
    pell-mell spending.

noun

  1. a confused or jumbled mass, crowd, etc.

  2. disorderly, headlong haste.

dictionary.com

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We would use the expression "Like you own the place"

used to say that a person is behaving as if he or she has the right to tell other people what to do.

For example: "You can't just walk in there like you own the place"

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    They used "like they own the place" in the question. But that's just one of the examples, they're not all like that.
    – Barmar
    Sep 8, 2023 at 20:22
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    Would you really use this for someone who falls in and out of love?
    – Barmar
    Sep 8, 2023 at 20:23
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    Lol, I didn't notice it was in the question Sep 9, 2023 at 5:56
  • I guess he had the answer all along. Sep 9, 2023 at 5:56
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    @SlowlySwift It was an example, not an answer. Lol. But "Like you own the place" is not even close to the Arabic idiom. It may be a component, but it is not the main definition. The Arabic idiom has an implication of "back and forth" in it and the disorderly or disorganized element. ;)
    – E.Groeg
    Sep 9, 2023 at 14:42
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The "coming and going" aspect is covered pretty well by yo-yo, I think. If you want to emphasize the rudeness, you'd add something like "rude" to it. In the end, you'd get something like this:

Speaker #1: Can you believe that guy? He keeps going in and out of His Majesty's office like he owns the place! Who does he think he is?

Speaker #2: I know, right? He's the rudest bloody yo-yo I've ever seen!

You know, the more I think about it, the more I like this idiom in this context. You see, by itself, "yo-yo" communicates a haphazard/thoughtless attitude to a lot of readers. It's reminiscent of idealistic hippies (who, due to their relentless idealism, a lot of people do consider brainless) and young children (who are also not known for their forethought or consideration). And due to the ease with which yo-yoing goes wrong, it's well suited to describe serial romantics — you know, those who get into relationships quickly (parallels with the apparent low skill threshold for yo-yoing), finds it goes terribly wrong terribly quickly (needs no explanation) and ditches it just as quickly (which is a normal response to a fouled-up yo-yo).

Enjoy!

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  • Interesting. I'm learning new terms/idioms on this page day by day. Keep 'em up! Speaking of "coming and going", the sentence example of "comings and goings" in Cambridge Dictionary doesn't seem that far off: "With so many comings and goings in this office I just can’t seem to concentrate." dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/comings-and-goings
    – E.Groeg
    Sep 11, 2023 at 12:58
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Thanks to HippoSawrUs for bringing it up in the comments - I believe revolving door is a very good contender, as it has a sense of the idiom's original definition of "in and out", "coming and going" and "back and forth". Google defines it as:

an organization that people tend to enter and leave very quickly.

Example sentence:

  • The newsroom became a revolving-door workplace

Cambridge Dictionary defines revolving door as:

If you say that a situation is a revolving door, you mean that people or other things are continuously coming and going, rather than staying somewhere.

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/revolving-door

Merriam-Webster:

characterized by a frequent succession (as of personnel) or a cycle of leaving and returning

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/revolving-door

Seems more business and politics-related, but maybe it can apply for other situations and purposes.

And the obvious Comings and goings as well:

Comings and goings refers to the way people keep arriving at and leaving a particular place.

  • They noted the comings and goings of the journalists.

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/comings-and-goings

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even with things like falling in love, and falling out of love again

In cases like that one, you could say that the person runs hot and cold. TFD defines it as:

To vacillate between two opposing or starkly different states, opinions, or behaviors.

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  • Apologies up there. I had to omit "in and out love" as people had the sense of fickleness, when the idiom doesn't really pertain to capriciousness, but rather disorderly and haphazard situations.
    – E.Groeg
    Sep 11, 2023 at 13:44
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"You can't just go in and out of his office, making yourself at home. He's the king of England!"

If you are not invited to "make yourself at home", it will be quite impolite to feel free to behave as if you lived there.

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The word interloper could be an appropriate answer to the question in the title:

What is a term (or idiom) for someone who enters and exits without a request or order?

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In a tizzy captures some aspects of what you're after, indicating an agitated or chaotic state of activity. Someone in a tizzy is typically in a nervous or anxious state of mind, and are acting quickly and in a disorganized manner. Their actions may not follow proper procedure or rules, and are often ineffective. It usually describes a single person's unusually heighted activity, rather than a group of people or a situation. It describes well a single person who is acting chaotically and ineffectively, but probably wouldn't be a good fit to describe an unruly classroom.

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A word for the person doing the coming and going, not for the coming and going itself, could be "interloper."

"There was an interloper at today's meeting. He turned up without a badge and we had to show him the door."

As an aside, in the film industry, someone not involved in the production who wanders into a scene (but isn't supposed to be there) is known as a "lookie-loo" (that's very specific to the film industry).

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  • I don't think "lookie-loo" is necessarily specific to the film industry; at least I've heard it in other contexts, such as someone who is deliberately window-shopping. Though that is more in and out of multiple stores rather than repeatedly the same one.
    – Miral
    Sep 13, 2023 at 6:06

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