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  • IPA(key): /ˈfʌmbəl/
  • (file)
    Rhymes: -ʌmbəl

Etymology 1[edit]

Late Middle English, from Low German fommeln or Dutch fommelen.[1]

Or, perhaps from a Scandinavian/North Germanic source; compare Old Norse fálma, Swedish fumla, Danish fumle, German fummeln.

The ultimate origin for either could perhaps be imitative of fumbling.[2] Or, from Proto-Indo-European *pal- (to shake, swing), see also Latin palpo (I pat, touch softly), and possibly Proto-West Germanic *fōlijan (to feel).[3]


fumble (third-person singular simple present fumbles, present participle fumbling, simple past and past participle fumbled)

  1. (transitive, intransitive) To handle nervously or awkwardly.
    Waiting for the interview, he fumbled with his tie.
    He fumbled the key into the lock.
  2. (transitive, intransitive) To grope awkwardly in trying to find something
    He fumbled for his keys.
    He fumbled his way to the light-switch.
  3. (intransitive) To blunder uncertainly.
    He fumbled through his prepared speech.
  4. To grope about in perplexity; to seek awkwardly.
    to fumble for an excuse
  5. (transitive, intransitive, sports) To drop a ball or a baton etc. by accident.
    • 2010 December 28, Owen Phillips, “Sunderland 0 - 2 Blackpool”, in BBC[1]:
      Henderson's best strike on goal saw goalkeeper Kingson uncomfortably fumble his measured shot around the post.
  6. To handle much; to play childishly; to turn over and over.
  7. (slang, obsolete) Of a man, to sexually underperform. [16th to 18th c.]
Derived terms[edit]


fumble (plural fumbles)

  1. (sports, American football, Canadian football) A ball etc. that has been dropped by accident.

Etymology 2[edit]

Blend of fool +‎ crumble.


fumble (plural fumbles)

  1. (British) A dessert similar to a cross between a fool and a crumble.

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1884–1928, and First Supplement, 1933.
  2. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2024) “fumble”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  3. ^ Pokorny, Julius (1959) chapter 2313, in Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch [Indo-European Etymological Dictionary] (in German), volume 3, Bern, München: Francke Verlag, page 2313