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Middle English ydel, Old English īdel, from West Germanic *īdla-, from Proto-Germanic *īdalaz. Cognate with Dutch ijdel (vain), German eitel (vain, conceited).



idle (comparative more idle, superlative most idle)

  1. (obsolete) Empty, vacant.
  2. Not being use appropriately; not occupied; (of time) with no, no important, or not much activity.
    idle hours
    (compare: downtime)
    My computer hibernates after it has been idle for 30 minutes.
  3. Not engaged in any occupation or employment; unemployed; inactive; doing nothing.
    idle workmen
    • 1879, Richard Jefferies, The Amateur Poacher, chapter1:
      Molly the dairymaid came a little way from the rickyard, and said she would pluck the pigeon that very night after work. She was always ready to do anything for us boys; and we could never quite make out why they scolded her so for an idle hussy indoors. It seemed so unjust. Looking back, I recollect she had very beautiful brown eyes.
  4. Averse to work, labor or employment; lazy; slothful.
    an idle fellow
    • 1907, Robert William Chambers, chapter VI, in The Younger Set (Project Gutenberg; EBook #14852), New York, N.Y.: A. L. Burt Company, published 1 February 2005 (Project Gutenberg version), OCLC 4241346:
      “I don't mean all of your friends—only a small proportion—which, however, connects your circle with that deadly, idle, brainless bunch—the insolent chatterers at the opera, the gorged dowagers, the worn-out, passionless men, the enervated matrons of the summer capital, []!”
  5. Of no importance; useless; worthless; vain; trifling; thoughtless; silly.
    an idle story;  idle talk;  idle rumor
  6. (obsolete) Light-headed; foolish.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Ford to this entry?)

Derived terms[edit]




idle (third-person singular simple present idles, present participle idling, simple past and past participle idled)

  1. (transitive) To spend in idleness; to waste; to consume.
  2. (intransitive) To lose or spend time doing nothing, or without being employed in business.
    to idle in an IRC channel
    • 1939, Joan Evans, Chateaubriand (page 32)
      He had already heard of the young man's projected journey — evidently the Comte de Combourg had written many letters while his son idled at St. Malo []
  3. (intransitive) Of an engine: to run at a slow speed, or out of gear; to tick over.


Related terms[edit]