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[ahyd-l] /ˈaɪd l/
adjective, idler, idlest.
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), idled, idling.
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), idled, idling.
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 forms
idleness, noun
idly, adverb
overidle, adjective
overidleness, noun
overidly, adverb
unidle, adjective
unidling, adjective
unidly, adverb
Can be confused
idle, idol, idyll (see synonym study at the current entry)
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.
1. busy, industrious. 5. important, worthwhile. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for idle away
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Still he would rather sit all day and idle away his time than to work and have more things.

    Philippine Folk Tales Mabel Cook Cole
  • John was a spineless man, unworthy son of a great father, content to idle away his life in ease and quiet.

    Nuala O'Malley H. Bedford-Jones
  • Such quarters might indeed tempt many a tourist to idle away a month here.

    The Roof of France Matilda Betham-Edwards
  • From this time till I was twenty years old, six years, I did nothing but idle away the most precious time of one's existence.

    The Demands of Rome Elizabeth Schoffen
  • Breakfast over, the two friends went out to idle away the morning under the shade of a tree in the park.

    Armadale Wilkie Collins
  • Poorly clad street loafers sought to idle away their time with a visit to Santa Claus.

    A Son of the City Herman Gastrell Seely
  • Have you nothing to do but idle away the day and the night in such foolishness?

    Our Little Swedish Cousin Claire M. Coburn
  • He says himself he's an awful lounger, and used to idle away whole days before he invented time-tables.

  • He took to staying out at night, to drink, to gamble, and to idle away his time.

    A Woman's Burden Fergus Hume
British Dictionary definitions for idle away


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 trivial: idle pleasures
ineffective or powerless; fruitless; vain
without basis; unfounded
when tr, often foll by away. to waste or pass (time) fruitlessly or inactively: he idled the hours away
(intransitive) to loiter or move aimlessly
(intransitive) (of a shaft, engine, etc) to turn without doing useful work
(intransitive) (of an engine) to run at low speed with the transmission disengaged Also (Brit) tick over
(transitive) (US & Canadian) to cause to be inactive or unemployed
Derived Forms
idleness, noun
idly, adverb
Word Origin
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
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Word Origin and History for idle away



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
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