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[dab-uh l] /ˈdæb əl/
verb (used without object), dabbled, dabbling.
to play and splash in or as if in water, especially with the hands.
to work at anything in an irregular or superficial manner:
to dabble in literature.
(of a duck) to feed on shallow-water vegetation with rapid, splashing movements of the bill.
verb (used with object), dabbled, dabbling.
to wet slightly in or with a liquid; splash; spatter.
Chiefly South Midland U.S. to wash or rinse off lightly.
1550-60; probably dab1 + -le; compare Dutch dabbelen, dabben
Related forms
dabbler, noun
dabblingly, adverb
undabbled, adjective
2. putter, fiddle, toy, dally. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for dabbling
  • In the last few years, they began dabbling into hourly rentals as a way to compete with car sharing.
  • They are skimming biographies, dabbling in dictionaries.
  • But the motivation behind that dabbling is often principled outrage and a drive to right wrongs.
  • He also had a sharp eye for a good investment, successfully dabbling in property.
  • True dabbling ducks have an iridescent patch, called a speculum, on the trailing edge of their secondary feathers.
  • Types of ducks include dabbling ducks and diving ducks.
  • Examples of dabbling ducks include the mallard and northern pintail species.
  • They are good divers, but usually feed by dabbling or tipping rather than submerging.
  • dabbling ducks feed by straining food from the water's surface or by submerging their heads.
  • Cues for investment: nest desertion in response to partial clutch depredation in dabbling ducks.
British Dictionary definitions for dabbling


to dip, move, or splash (the fingers, feet, etc) in a liquid
(intransitive; usually foll by in, with, or at) to deal (with) or work (at) frivolously or superficially; play (at)
(transitive) to daub, mottle, splash, or smear: his face was dabbled with paint
Derived Forms
dabbler, noun
Word Origin
C16: probably from Dutch dabbelen; see dab1
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
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Word Origin and History for dabbling



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
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