a person who passes time in a lazy or unproductive way.
Machinery. an idle gear, wheel, or pulley.
Railroads. an empty freight car placed under the projecting end of a long object carried by the next car, so that the latter can be connected with another part of the train.
Nautical. day man(def 2).

Origin of idler

First recorded in 1525–35; idle + -er1



adjective, i·dler, i·dlest.

not working or active; unemployed; doing nothing: idle workers.
not spent or filled with activity: idle hours.
not in use or operation; not kept busy: idle machinery.
habitually doing nothing or avoiding work; lazy.
of no real worth, importance, or significance: idle talk.
having no basis or reason; baseless; groundless: idle fears.
frivolous; vain: idle pleasures.
meaningless; senseless: idle threats.
futile; unavailing: idle rage.

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

to pass time doing nothing.
to move, loiter, or saunter aimlessly: to idle along the avenue.
(of a machine, engine, or mechanism) to operate at a low speed, disengaged from the load.

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

to pass (time) doing nothing (often followed by away): to idle away the afternoon.
to cause (a person) to be idle: The strike idled many workers.
to cause (a machine, engine, or mechanism) to idle: I waited in the car while idling the engine.


the state or quality of being idle.
the state of a machine, engine, or mechanism that is idling: a cold engine that stalls at idle.

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

Related Words for idler

loafer, slacker, drone

Examples from the Web for idler

Historical Examples of idler

  • Labour is not only a necessity and a duty, but a blessing: only the idler feels it to be a curse.


    Samuel Smiles

  • Fowell learnt very little at school, and was regarded as a dunce and an idler.


    Samuel Smiles

  • He was like an idler basking in the sun, conscious of nothing but just the warmth and comfort of it.

    Jan and Her Job

    L. Allen Harker

  • A likable chap, this Thorpe, but lazy—just an idler—he had concluded.

  • Garry was now the young Laird, and I was but an idler, a burden on the estate.

    The Trail of '98

    Robert W. Service

British Dictionary definitions for idler



a person who idles
another name for idle pulley, idle wheel
nautical a ship's crew member, such as a carpenter, sailmaker, etc, whose duties do not include standing regular watches



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 idler

1530s, agent noun from 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