Origin of idle

before 900; 1915–20 for def 12; Middle English, Old English īdel (adj.) empty, trifling, vain, useless; cognate with German eitel
Related formsi·dle·ness, nouni·dly, adverbo·ver·i·dle, adjectiveo·ver·i·dle·ness, nouno·ver·i·dly, adverbun·i·dle, adjectiveun·i·dling, adjectiveun·i·dly, adverb
Can be confusedidle idol idyll (see synonym study at the current entry)

Synonyms for idle

1. sluggish. Idle, indolent, lazy, slothful apply to a person who is not active. To be idle is to be inactive or not working at a job. The word is sometimes derogatory, but not always, since one may be relaxing temporarily or may be idle through necessity: pleasantly idle on a vacation; to be idle because one is unemployed or because supplies are lacking. The indolent person is naturally disposed to avoid exertion: indolent and slow in movement; an indolent and contented fisherman. The lazy person is averse to exertion or work, and especially to continued application; the word is usually derogatory: too lazy to earn a living; incurably lazy. Slothful denotes a reprehensible unwillingness to carry one's share of the burden: so slothful as to be a burden on others. 5. worthless, trivial, trifling. 7. wasteful. 11. See loiter. 13. waste.

Antonyms for idle

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for idle

Contemporary Examples of idle

Historical Examples of idle

British Dictionary definitions for idle



unemployed or unoccupied; inactive
not operating or being used
(of money) not being used to earn interest or dividends
not wanting to work; lazy
(usually prenominal) frivolous or trivialidle pleasures
ineffective or powerless; fruitless; vain
without basis; unfounded


(when tr, often foll by away) to waste or pass (time) fruitlessly or inactivelyhe idled the hours away
(intr) to loiter or move aimlessly
(intr) (of a shaft, engine, etc) to turn without doing useful work
(intr) (of an engine) to run at low speed with the transmission disengagedAlso (Brit): tick over
(tr) US and Canadian to cause to be inactive or unemployed
Derived Formsidleness, nounidly, adverb

Word Origin for idle

Old English īdel; compare Old High German ītal empty, vain
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 idle

Old English idel "empty, void; vain; worthless, useless; not employed," common West Germanic (cf. Old Saxon idal, Old Frisian idel "empty, worthless," Old Dutch idil, Old High German ital, German eitel "vain, useless, mere, pure"), of unknown origin. Idle threats preserves original sense; meaning "lazy" is c.1300.


late 15c., "make vain or worthless," from idle (adj.). Meaning "spend or waste (time)" is from 1650s. Meaning "cause to be idle" is from 1789. Sense of "running slowly and steadily without transmitting power" (as a motor) first recorded 1916. Related: Idled; idling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper