AskDefine | Define idle

Dictionary Definition

idle adj
1 not in action or at work; "an idle laborer"; "idle drifters"; "the idle rich"; "an idle mind" [ant: busy]
2 without a basis in reason or fact; "baseless gossip"; "the allegations proved groundless"; "idle fears"; "unfounded suspicions"; "unwarranted jealousy" [syn: baseless, groundless, unfounded, unwarranted]
3 not in active use; "the machinery sat idle during the strike"; "idle hands" [syn: unused]
4 silly or trivial; "idle pleasure"; "light banter"; "light idle chatter" [syn: light]
5 lacking a sense of restraint or responsibility; "idle talk"; "a loose tongue" [syn: loose]
6 not yielding a return; "dead capital"; "idle funds" [syn: dead]
7 not having a job; "idle carpenters"; "jobless transients"; "many people in the area were out of work" [syn: jobless, out of work]


1 run disconnected or idle; "the engine is idling" [syn: tick over] [ant: run]
2 be idle; exist in a changeless situation; "The old man sat and stagnated on his porch"; "He slugged in bed all morning" [syn: laze, slug, stagnate] [ant: work]

User Contributed Dictionary



Old English īdel, from West Germanic *īdla-. Cognate with Dutch ijdel ‘unimportant’, German eitel ‘bare, worthless’.


  • , /ˈaɪd(ə)l/, /"aId(@)l/
    Rhymes with: -aɪdəl



  1. Empty, vacant.
  2. Not turned to appropriate use; not occupied.
    idle hours
  3. Not engaged in any occupation or employment; unemployed; inactive; doing nothing.
    idle workmen
  4. Averse to work, labor or employment; lazy; slothful.
    an idle fellow
  5. Of no importance; useless; worthless; vain; trifling; thoughtless; silly.
    an idle story; idle talk; idle rumor


not turned to appropriate use, not occupied
  • Portuguese: vazio, inapropriado, desocupado
not engaged in any occupation or employment
averse to work or labor
  • Finnish: laiska
  • French: inactif
  • Portuguese: preguiçoso, vagabundo
of no importance, worthless, useless
  • Finnish: joutava
  • Portuguese: inútil, imprestável, vão


  1. To spend in idleness; to waste; to consume.
  2. To lose or spend time doing nothing, or without being employed in business.
  3. Of an engine: to run at a slow speed, or out of gear; to tick-over.


to spend in idleness, to waste
  • Hebrew:
to lose or spend time doing nothing
  • French: fainéanter
  • Hebrew:
to run at a slow speed, or out of gear

Related terms


Extensive Definition

For other meanings, including people named Idle, see Idle (disambiguation).
Idle is a term which generally refers to a lack of motion and/or energy.


In describing a person or machine, idle means the act of doing nothing or no work (for example: Adolfo Dias is an idle person). This a person who spends his days doing nothing of relative importance could be said to be "idly passing his days." A computer processor or communication circuit is described as idle when it is not being used by any program, application or message. See available line. Similarly, an engine of an automobile may be described as idle when it is running only to sustain its running (not doing any useful work), this is also called tickover (See idle speed). In Canada you can get a fine for idleing in your car for a certain amount of time, depending on the city you are in. Occupying a chat room while performing another activity and saying little or nothing is known as idling. The word idle is also used on the program AIM describing the status of buddies not showing any activity at their computer. Idle is also a small village in West Yorkshire with the Famous Idle working Men's Club of which Michael Jackson is a member. Idle can also be used when calling someone "Idle" in a different manner to the first definition. Many people have described idleness as "multiple emotions combining, anger, boredom etc, to make one Idle."

Idleness as dependent upon cultural norms

Typically, when one describes a machine as idle, it is an objective statement regarding its current state. However, when used to describe a person, idle typically carries a negative connotation, with the assumption that the person is wasting their time by doing nothing of value. Such a view is reflected in the proverb "an idle mind is the devil´s workshop". This interpretation of idleness is not universal - it is more typically associated with Western cultures. Other cultures believe that simply being (doing nothing) has its own value, and they may also reject the West's definition of what is nothing and what is not.

Books on Idleness

The state of being idle is sometimes even celebrated with a few books on the subject of Idleness. How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson is one such example from an author who is also known for his magazine - "The Idler", devoted to promoting its ethos of "idle living". Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness; And other essays is another book that explores the virtues of being idle in the modern society.
Mitchell Stevens has published a small mini-series magazine entitled "How idle are you?" which goes over basic idle concepts. (Source: North Shore Times Advertiser)
Mark Slouka published his essay, "Quitting the Paint Factory: The Virtues of Idleness" in the November 2004 Harper's Magazine, hinting at a post-scarcity economy, and linking conscious busy-ness with antidemocratic and fascist tendencies.
idle in German: Müßiggang
idle in French: Oisiveté
idle in Japanese: アイドリング
idle in Dutch: Idle time

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abortive, absurd, airy, amble, ambling, asinine, asleep, at a standstill, at anchor, at leisure, at liberty, at loose ends, available, baseless, be a sideliner, be still, bootless, brogue, bum, bum around, catchpenny, cautious, circumspect, claudicant, claudicate, coast, contemplative, coquet, crawl, crawling, creep, creeping, creeping like snail, dabble, dally, dally away, dead-still, delay, deliberate, diddle, diddle away, disengaged, do nothing, do-nothing, dog it, dogtrot, dormant, drag, drag along, drag out, dribble away, drift, drivel away, drone, easy, empty, faineant, fallow, faltering, fatuitous, fatuous, fiddle, fiddle with, fiddle-faddle, fidget with, finger with, fixed, flagging, flimsy, flirt, fool, fool around, fool away, fool with, foolish, foot-dragging, free, fribble, fribbling, fritter away, frivol, frivolous, frothy, fruitless, fust, futile, gentle, go dead slow, go slow, goldbrick, goof off, gradual, groundless, halting, hang around, hang fire, hibernate, hobble, hobbled, hobbling, hollow, horse around, idle away, ill-founded, immobile, immotive, inactive, inane, inch, inch along, indolent, inert, insignificant, jerk off, jobless, jog-trot, kid around, kill, kill time, lackadaisical, laissez-aller, laissez-faire, lallygag, languid, languorous, laze, lazy, leisure, leisured, leisurely, lethargic, lie around, lie dormant, light, limp, limping, linger, listless, loaf, loafing, loiter, loiter about, loitering, loll, loll around, lollop around, lollygag, lounge, lounge around, lumbering, lumpen, mark time, meaningless, meditative, mess around, moderate, monkey, monkey around, mooch, mooch around, moon, moon around, mosey, motionless, moveless, muddle away, neuter, neutral, not budge, not stir, nugacious, nugatory, off, off duty, off work, open, otiose, out of commission, out of employ, out of harness, out of work, paralytic, paralyzed, passive, piddle, piss away, play, play around, play with, pointless, poke, poke along, poking, poky, potter, potter away, procrastinating, putter, quiescent, quiet, quietist, quietistic, redundant, relax, relaxed, reluctant, repose, rest, resting, retired, riding at anchor, saunter, sauntering, semiretired, senseless, shallow, shiftless, shuffle along, shuffling, silly, sit around, sit back, sit it out, slack, sleep, sleepy, slender, slight, slothful, slouch, slouch around, slow, slow as death, slow as molasses, slow as slow, slow-crawling, slow-foot, slow-going, slow-legged, slow-moving, slow-paced, slow-poky, slow-running, slow-sailing, slow-stepped, sluggish, slumber, smatter, smolder, snail-paced, snaillike, spare, stagger along, staggering, stagnant, stagnate, stagnating, stand around, standpat, static, stationary, statuelike, still, stock-still, stroll, strolling, superficial, take it easy, tarry, tentative, tinker, toddle, toddle along, toddling, tortoiselike, totter along, tottering, toy, toy with, traipse, trifle, trifle away, trifling, trite, trivial, trudging, turtlelike, twiddle, unavailing, unbased, unemployable, unemployed, unfounded, unfruitful, ungrounded, unhurried, unimportant, unmoved, unmoving, unoccupied, unproductive, unsupportable, unsupported, unsustainable, unsustained, untenable, unused, unwarranted, useless, vacuous, vain, vapid, vegetable, vegetate, vegetative, waddle, waddling, wait and see, walk, waste, watch and wait, while away, windy, without basis, without foundation, workless, worm, worm along, worthless
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