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verb (used without object), dab·bled, dab·bling.
  1. to play and splash in or as if in water, especially with the hands.
  2. to work at anything in an irregular or superficial manner: to dabble in literature.
  3. (of a duck) to feed on shallow-water vegetation with rapid, splashing movements of the bill.
verb (used with object), dab·bled, dab·bling.
  1. to wet slightly in or with a liquid; splash; spatter.
  2. Chiefly South Midland U.S. to wash or rinse off lightly.

Origin of dabble

1550–60; probably dab1 + -le; compare Dutch dabbelen, dabben
Related formsdab·bler, noundab·bling·ly, adverbun·dab·bled, adjective

Synonyms for dabble

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for dabble

trifle, play, monkey, dilly-dally, idle, dally

Examples from the Web for dabble

Contemporary Examples of dabble

Historical Examples of dabble

British Dictionary definitions for dabble


  1. to dip, move, or splash (the fingers, feet, etc) in a liquid
  2. (intr; usually foll by in, with, or at) to deal (with) or work (at) frivolously or superficially; play (at)
  3. (tr) to daub, mottle, splash, or smearhis face was dabbled with paint
Derived Formsdabbler, noun

Word Origin for dabble

C16: probably from Dutch dabbelen; see dab 1
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for dabble

1550s, probably a frequentative of dab. Original meaning was "wet by splashing;" modern figurative sense of "do superficially" first recorded 1620s. Related: Dabbled; dabbling. An Ellen Dablewife is in the Lancashire Inquests from 1336.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper