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fiddle while Rome burns

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To do something trivial and irresponsible in the midst of an emergency; legend has it that while a fire destroyed the city of Rome, the emperor Nero played his violin, thus revealing his total lack of concern for his people and his empire.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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fiddle while Rome burns

Occupy oneself with unimportant matters and neglect important ones during a crisis. For example, The account was falling through, but he was more worried about missing his golf game—talk about fiddling while Rome burns! This expression alludes to the legend that the Emperor Nero played his fiddle while watching the conflagration of Rome. [Mid-1600s]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
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