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See also: Dibble


A handheld dibble


Etymology 1[edit]

Possibly dib (to dab lightly) +‎ -le (frequentative suffix indicating repetition or continuousness); however, the word dibble is attested earlier than dib.


dibble (plural dibbles)

  1. A pointed implement used to make holes in the ground in which to set out plants or to plant seeds.


dibble (third-person singular simple present dibbles, present participle dibbling, simple past and past participle dibbled)

  1. (transitive) To make holes or plant seeds using, or as if using, a dibble.
    • 1855, Matthew Arnold, “Balder Dead. An Episode. [3. Funeral.]”, in Poems. By Matthew Arnold. Second Series, London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, OCLC 367543808, page 58:
      And as in winter, when the frost breaks up, / At winter's end, before the spring begins, / And a warm west wind blows, and thaw sets in— / After an hour a dripping sound is heard / In all the forests, and the soft-strewn snow / Under the trees is dibbled thick with holes, / And from the boughs the snowloads shuffle down; []
    • 1955, C[live] S[taples] Lewis, chapter 12, in The Magician's Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia; 1), London: The Bodley Head, →OCLC; republished London: Collins, 1998, →ISBN:
      It was Digory who had the bright idea of eating four each and planting the ninth; for, as he said, "if the bar off the lamp-post turned into a little light-tree, why shouldn’t this turn into a toffee-tree?" So they dibbled a small hole in the turf and buried the piece of toffee.
  2. (intransitive) To use a dibble; to make holes in the soil.
    • 1800, Erasmus Darwin, “Section XVI.[2.2.] The Production of Seeds.”, in Phytologia; or the Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening. With the Theory of Draining Morasses, and with an Improved Construction of the Drill Plough, London: Printed for J. Johnson, St. Paul's Church-yard; by T[homas] Bensley, Bolt Court, Fleet Street, OCLC 536499278, pages 440–441:
      There is another method of ſowing wheat in rows uſed in ſome counties, which is termed dibbling in the language of agricultors, and consiſts in making perpendicular holes one inch and half or two inches deep, as is commonly done in planting potato-roots; theſe holes are made by a man, who has a proper ſtaff ſhod with iron in each hand, and as he walks backwards is able by looking at the part of the row already made to keep nearly in a ſtraight line, and to make two holes at once at about nine inches diſtant from each other every way.
    • 1826, Allan Cunningham, “chapter III”, in Paul Jones; A Romance. [...] In Three Volumes, volume II, Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd; London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, & Green, OCLC 877440620, page 66:
      I would as soon be gored by my ain bull that gangs on Dalmakittenleys, as have ill luck, and sorrow, and mischance, drilled and dibbled into my frail body by the spiteful een of an auld hag.
  3. (intransitive) To dib or dip frequently, as in angling.
    • 1622, Michael Drayton, Poly-Olbion song 25 p. 106[1]:
      And neere to them ye see the lesser dibling Teale
    • 1787, Thomas Best, “Of Natural Fly-fishing, with a Description of Flies Generally Used, and a Choice Collection of Rules and Hints to be Observed in the Art of Angling”, in A Concise Treatise on the Art of Angling, Confirmed by Actual Experience; Interspersed with Several New and Recent Discoveries; the Whole Forming a Complete Museum, for the Lovers of that Pleasing and Rational Recreation, 7th edition, London: Printed by T. Plummer, Seething-Lane, Tower-Street for B. Crosby and Co. no. 4 Stationers' Court, Ludgate Hill, published 1807, OCLC 82738528, pages 34–35:
      Natural fly-fishing, which comes under the heads of dibbling, daping and dabbing, is a method with which the largest fish are taken, and requires a deal of nicety and circumspection. The general rule in this way of angling is to fish with a line about half the length of your rod; but if there is wind stirring, with as much as it will carry out; but you need hardly ever fish with more than the first length, as dibbling must be performed as near as possible to the bank that you stand on; therefore a long rod and a short line is the best, which you will command with ease, and be able to shelter yourself from the sight of the fishes, behind bushes, stumps of trees, &c. The line you dib with should be very strong; for when you have struck a good fish, you will have a hard bout with him before you kill him, for want of a greater length of line: []

Related terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From the character of Officer Charlie Dibble, a New York Police Department officer, in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series Top Cat (first broadcast in the US in 1961, and in the UK in 1962 under the title Boss Cat).


dibble (countable and uncountable, plural dibbles)

  1. (slang, Britain, originally Manchester, countable) A police officer.
    • 2016 May 12, “maxc73”, “Robbie Williams ‘confesses’ to digging holes in school’s playing field”, in The Herald[2], Plymouth, Devon, archived from the original on 16 March 2017:
      Remember this story about police hunting a metal detector enthusiast suspected of digging 20 holes in a school playing field in Cornwall? It’s taken a rather unusual twist. Pop superstar Robbie Williams appears to have ’fessed up to the crime. The former Take That star, who is a keen metal detecting enthusiast, retweeted the West Briton newspaper’s version of the story, telling ‘Dibble’ – a Mancunian slang term for the police which comes from the character Officer Dibble in the cartoon Top Cat – to ‘do one’, vowing the police will never catch him alive.
  2. (slang, Britain, originally Manchester, uncountable) Preceded by the: the police.
    Watch out, lads! Here comes the dibble!
    • 2002, Colin Ward; 'Chubby' Chris Henderson, “Revelling in It”, in Who Wants It?, Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, →ISBN:
      In Moss Side they called the police Dibble, after Officer Dibble in the cartoon Top Cat, so the name had sprung from that.
    • 2008, Theodore Dalrymple [pseudonym; Anthony Malcolm Daniels], “How Not to Do It”, in Not with a Bang but a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline, Chicago, Ill.: Ivan R. Dee, →ISBN, pages 125–126:
      Bein' in the dibble [police] is no cakewalk when you're black. / If you don't get fitted, then you'll prob'ly get the sack.

Further reading[edit]