Peely-wally, with the ‘wally’ pronounced to rhyme with rally, not holly, is a Scots adjectival expression meaning pale, wan and off-colour, in the sense of looking unwell and tired.
“She’s had the flu and she’s looking affy peely-wally.”
The use of the mid-19th century word, also spelled peelie-wallie, can be extended to mean insipid and colourless – a weak and overly-milky cup of tea and a beige decor scheme could be described as such.
The phrase is also often used to refer to the Scottish complexion, although it is most decidedly not a complimentary term when applied to our national skin tone, as the use of alabaster, porcelain or ivory might be.
“Look at him all peely-wally on the beach next to all they tanned Brazilians.”
The expression started as peely, connected to the Scots word palie, meaning sickly or listless, which is in turn no doubt connected to the English word pale.
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