twiddle one's thumbs


verb (used with object), twiddled, twiddling.
to turn about or play with lightly or idly, especially with the fingers; twirl.
verb (used without object), twiddled, twiddling.
to play or trifle idly with something; fiddle.
to turn about lightly; twirl.
the act of twiddling; turn; twirl.
twiddle one's thumbs, to do nothing; be idle: Business was slack, and the salespeople were twiddling their thumbs.

1530–40; perhaps blend of twitch and fiddle

twiddler, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
twiddle (ˈtwɪdəl)
vb (when intr, often foll by with)
1.  to twirl or fiddle (with), often in an idle way
2.  to do nothing; be unoccupied
3.  (intr) to turn, twirl, or rotate
4.  rare (intr) to be occupied with trifles
5.  an act or instance of twiddling
[C16: probably a blend of twirl + fiddle]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

c.1540, "to trifle," of unknown origin; of the fingers, first recorded 1676. Fig. phrase twiddle one's thumbs "have nothing to do" is recorded from 1846; to twirl one's thumbs in the same sense is recorded from 1816.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

twiddle one's thumbs

Be bored or idle, as in There I sat for three hours, twiddling my thumbs, while he made call after call. This expression alludes to the habit of idly turning one's thumbs about one another during a period of inactivity. [Mid-1800s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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