Tolloll: a tolerable goodbye? 

Ulysses 5.175: Tolloll

The OED is usually a reliable guide to Joyce’s English but can sometimes prove a trap. Bloom’s encounter with M’Coy in ‘Lotos Eaters’ provides a good example. M’Coy says that he might not be able to attend Dignam’s funeral and asks Bloom to add his name to the list of mourners. This leads to the following exchange (5.174-6):


—I’ll do that, Mr Bloom said, moving to get off. That’ll be all right.

—Right, M’Coy said brightly. Thanks, old man. I’d go if I possibly could. Well. Tolloll. Just C. P. M’Coy will do.


The OED gives ‘tolloll’ as a derivative form of ‘tolerable’, with the definitions “Tolerable, pretty good, pretty well, passable, ‘middling’”. Gifford offers no definition, but Slote, Mamigonian, Turner quote the OED.


  This seems an unsatisfactory gloss for the passage above, where ‘tolloll’ is much more likely to be a variant of ‘toodle-oo’ or ‘tooraloo’ (both defined in the OED as meaning ‘goodbye’), sharing the Wodehousian preciousness of both of these expressions.


   However I have not found this definition in any dictionary, including Webster, Wright, Partridge and countless glossaries of dialects and slang. If they define it at all they follow the OED, some adding ‘intoxicated’ as a further meaning.


  Interestingly, most of the translators, from Morel onwards, take the ‘goodbye’ option, despite the lack of lexical aids. Morel may have benefited from advice from the author, and this may also have been the case with Goyert, who translates it as “Adios”. Curiously, Wollschläger, leaning on Muret-Sanders's Enzyklopädisches Wörterbuch as usual, reverts to “geht ja aber auch so ganz gut”.  Beck, Frehner, Zeller have the homely “Tschüß”, which seems to miss the pretentiousness of “Adios”.


  All the examples that follow suggest comic or ironic usage. So far, the earliest example of the valedictory ‘tolloll’ I have been able to find is from the Dublin University Magazine (1871) vol. 77, p. 265:

“Tol-lol, old feller! how are you?" returned Puff, who, by no means glad of the encounter endeavoured to free himself and proceed on his way.

A few years later the Melbourne Punch (1879) July, p. 109, had: 

De L. — Young man, shut up! I am feeling a little fatigued; you must leave me. When in a communicative mood I will drop you a note. (Glances wickedly).

Rep. – A little pink note. (Touching him under the chin.)

De L. (knitting brows)—Now, none o’ yer larks! So ‘Long!

Rep. (grasping his big hand)—Tol-lol, old man! Tol-lol.

A further instance can be found in Eimar O’Duffy’s novel The Wasted Island, p. 115:


“I say,” gasped Molloy, taken aback, “I’m awfully sorry you know. I didn’t really mean anything.”

“We’ll pardon you,” said Manders.

“I say, I hope I haven’t hurt your feelings.”

“Oh, they’re used to it. Tol lol, old son.”

Molloy took himself off looking very foolish.


O’Duffy was born a decade later than Joyce and was also educated at Belvedere College. The Wasted Island is his best-known novel, a roman à clef dealing with the 1916 Rising. It was first published in Dublin in 1919 and in New York the following year.


  The most likely source for ‘tolloll’ in its present mood and sense was ‘As Others See Us’, a regular column appearing in the Leader. This takes the form of a series of letters purportedly written by John Bull Junior to an English crony and was designed as a verbal Chamber of Horrors, revealing the Saxon tongue in all its ugliness. On page 32 of the issue for 20 November, 1909, he signs off with “Tol lol, / Yours still game, / J. Bull, Junior.”


  Readers of Finnegans Wake may recall the use of the word in the same sense at 067.17 (“So tolloll Mr Hunker”), unglossed by Annotations.


Vincent Deane