trifling; trivial: a fiddling sum of money.

Origin of fiddling

late Middle English word dating back to 1425–75; see origin at fiddle, -ing2




a musical instrument of the viol family.
violin: Her aunt plays first fiddle with the state symphony orchestra.
Nautical. a small ledge or barrier raised in heavy weather to keep dishes, pots, utensils, etc., from sliding off tables and stoves.
British Informal. swindle; fraud.

verb (used without object), fid·dled, fid·dling.

to play on the fiddle.
to make trifling or fussing movements with the hands (often followed by with): fiddling with his cuffs.
to touch or manipulate something, as to operate or adjust it; tinker (often followed by with): You may have to fiddle with the antenna to get a clear picture on the TV.
to waste time; trifle; dally (often followed by around): Stop fiddling around and get to work.
British Informal. to cheat.

verb (used with object), fid·dled, fid·dling.

to play (a tune) on a fiddle.
to trifle or waste (usually used with away): to fiddle time away.
Bookbinding. to bind together (sections or leaves of a book) by threading a cord through holes cut lengthwise into the back.
British Informal.
  1. to falsify: to fiddle the account books.
  2. to cheat: to fiddle the company out of expense money.

Origin of fiddle

before 1000; Middle English; Old English fithele (cognate with German Fiedel, Dutch vedel, Old High German fidula) probably < Vulgar Latin *vītula (cf. viol, viola1), perhaps derivative of Latin vītulārī to rejoice Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for fiddling

Contemporary Examples of fiddling

Historical Examples of fiddling

  • He kept edging in, and fiddling with his reins and his revolvers, and saying, 'Dear me!

  • The fiddling, dancing and "jubilee beating," was going on in all directions.

    My Bondage and My Freedom

    Frederick Douglass

  • He began punching buttons for data and fiddling with setscrews and verniers.

    Space Viking

    Henry Beam Piper

  • So we sat, dry, upon the stools, listening to the Dagoes fiddling on deck.

  • He was on the far side of it, fiddling with something hidden.

British Dictionary definitions for fiddling



trifling or insignificant; petty
another word for fiddly



informal any instrument of the viol or violin family, esp the violin
a violin played as a folk instrument
time-wasting or trifling behaviour; nonsense; triviality
nautical a small railing around the top of a table to prevent objects from falling off it in bad weather
British informal an illegal or fraudulent transaction or arrangement
British informal a manually delicate or tricky operation
at the fiddle or on the fiddle informal engaged in an illegal or fraudulent undertaking
face as long as a fiddle informal a dismal or gloomy facial expression
fit as a fiddle informal in very good health
play second fiddle informal to be subordinate; play a minor part


to play (a tune) on the fiddle
(intr often foll by with) to make restless or aimless movements with the hands
(when intr, often foll by about or around) informal to spend (time) or act in a careless or inconsequential manner; waste (time)
(often foll by with) informal to tamper or interfere (with)
informal to contrive to do (something) by illicit means or deceptionhe fiddled his way into a position of trust
(tr) informal to falsify (accounts, etc); swindle

Word Origin for fiddle

Old English fithele, probably from Medieval Latin vītula, from Latin vītulārī to celebrate; compare Old High German fidula fiddle; see viola 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 fiddling



late 14c., from fiddle (n.); the figurative sense of "to act nervously or idly" is from 1520s. Related: Fiddled; fiddling.



late 14c., fedele, earlier fithele, from Old English fiðele, which is related to Old Norse fiðla, Middle Dutch vedele, Dutch vedel, Old High German fidula, German Fiedel; all of uncertain origin.

Perhaps from Medieval Latin vitula "stringed instrument," which is perhaps related to Latin vitularia "celebrate joyfully," from Vitula, Roman goddess of joy and victory, who probably, like her name, originated among the Sabines [Klein, Barnhart]. Unless the Medieval Latin word is from the Germanic ones.

Fiddle has been relegated to colloquial usage by its more proper cousin, violin, a process encouraged by phraseology such as fiddlesticks, contemptuous nonsense word fiddlededee (1784), and fiddle-faddle. Fit as a fiddle is from 1610s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

fiddling in Culture


Another name for the violin; fiddle is the more common term for the instrument as played in folk music and bluegrass.

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.

Idioms and Phrases with fiddling


In addition to the idiom beginning with fiddle

  • fiddle while Rome burns

also see:

  • fit as a fiddle
  • hang up (one's fiddle)
  • play second fiddle
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.