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adj. i·dler, i·dlest
a. Not employed or busy: idle carpenters. See Synonyms at inactive.
b. Disinclined to work or be active; lazy: "a man who could seem idle, ignorant, even incompetent, yet was able to understand and to express ... the instincts, good and bad, of the American majority" (Godfrey Hodgson).
c. Not in use or operation: idle hands; idle mills.
d. Sports Not scheduled to play a game: Both teams played today but will be idle tomorrow.
2. Being a period of time in which there is little or no activity: passed idle hours watching TV.
3. Lacking substance, value, or basis: idle speculation; idle threats. See Synonyms at baseless, vain.
v. i·dled, i·dling, i·dles
1. To pass time without being engaged in purposeful activity: "The girls idled all day long, sending their tinkling laughter flowing up and down the street" (Alai).
2. To move slowly or without purpose: "I drove past the workshop ... I idled along the driveway past the pole fence ... to Tyhee Road" (Tom Spanbauer).
3. To run at a slow speed or out of gear. Used of a motor or motor vehicle.
1. To pass (time) without doing anything: idle the afternoon away.
2. To make or cause to be unemployed or inactive: layoffs that idled 1,000 factory workers; a plant that was idled by a strike.
3. To cause (a motor, for example) to idle.
1. A state of idling. Used of a motor vehicle: an engine running quietly at idle.
2. A mechanism for regulating the speed at which an engine runs at rest: set the idle higher to keep the motor from stalling.

[Middle English idel, from Old English īdel.]

i′dle·ness n.
i′dler (īd′lər) n.
i′dly adv.


  • honky-tonk - May come from the New England dialect word honk, "to idle about," and is a rhyming duplication.
  • libberwort - Food or drink that makes one idle and stupid, food of no nutritional value, i.e. junk food.
  • ignavia, ignavy - Idleness or sloth can be described as ignavia or ignavy.
  • otiosity - Another word for leisure or idleness.




  1. As peace is the end of war, so to be idle is the ultimate purpose of the busy —Samuel Johnson
  2. Idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean —Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  3. Idle as if in hospital —Sylvia Plath
  4. Idleness is a disease that must be combated —Samuel Johnson
  5. Idleness is like the nightmare; the moment you begin to stir yourself you shake it off —Punch, 1853
  6. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen —Jerome K. Jerome
  7. An idler is a watch without both hands, as useless if it goes as when it stands —William Cowper

    This is modified from the original which reads “A watch that wants both hands.”

  8. Indolent and shifting as men or tides —Kenneth Patchen
  9. A lazy man is like a filthy stone, everyone flees from its stench —The Holy Bible/Apocrypha
  10. Like lambs, you do nothing but suck, and wag your tails —Thomas Fuller
  11. (I’ve been) lying around like an old cigarette holder —Anton Chekhov See Also: LYING
  12. A slacker is just like custard pie, yellow all through but without crust enough to go over the top —Don Marquis
  13. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears, while the used eye is always bright —H. G. Bohn’s Handbook of Proverbs



(See also INDOLENCE.)

bench warmer See SUBORDINATION.

boondoggle To engage in work of little or no practical value; to look busy while accomplishing nothing.

They boondoggled when there was nothing else to do on the ranch. (Chicago Tribune, October 4, 1935)

This U.S. slang term of uncertain origin gained currency in the 1930s with the proliferation of public-sector jobs created to combat the extensive unemployment of the Depression. As a noun the term is still primarily used for windfall government contracts awarded to appease certain constituencies despite the project’s questionable value. The boon of the term ‘a favor or gift freely bestowed’ clearly relates to its meaning, but the doggie element is puzzling. One source says that boondoggle is a Scottish word for a marble received as a gift, without having worked for it.

goldbrick A shirker, a loafer, a boondoggler a scrimshanker. This enlisted man’s term of disparagement for a second lieutenant appointed from civilian life probably derived from the gold bar insignia of these officers. Now this U.S. slang term is applied to military or civilian workers in sinecures, or to those who discharge their responsibilities in an inefficient or lackadaisical manner.

In the ranks, billeted with the stinking, cheating, foul-mouthed goldbricks, there were true heroes. (John Steinbeck, Once There Was War, 1958)

The slang use of this term dates from the early part of this century.

have lead in one’s pants To think or act very slowly or ponderously; to be lethargic, apathetic, or lazy. The implication here is that one whose pants are weighted down with lead moves very slowly. Several related expressions were used as commands during World War II and for several years thereafter, but are rarely heard today. These include get the lead out and get the lead out of one’s pants.

She knows I’m in imminent danger of dying of malnutrition unless she takes the lead out of her pants and gets a move on with that picture. (P.G. Wodehouse, Frozen Assets, 1964)

Mickey Mouse around See EVASIVENESS.

monkey around See MISCHIEF.

on the beach Unemployed; without a job. This American slang term originally referred to seamen out of work; either retired or unemployed. It is probably an extension of the verb to beach, ‘to haul [a ship] up on the shore or beach.’ The phrase appeared in 1903 in People of Abyss by J. London.

rest on one’s laurels See COMPLACENCY.

rest on one’s oars See RESPITE.

sit on one’s hands To do nothing, especially when the circumstances dictate that action be taken; to withhold applause or to applaud weakly. Originally a theater expression, sit on one’s hands implies that the people in an audience are so cold (i.e., unresponsive) that they are sitting on their hands for warmth, and are thus unable to applaud.

Well, they were sitting on their hands to-night, all right. Seemed they would never warm up. (Edna Ferber, Show Boat, 1926)

By extension then, sit on one’s hands is often applied figuratively to describe a person’s inactivity in a situation where action would be more appropriate.

twiddle one’s thumbs To idle away the time; to be extremely bored. This expression refers to the indolent pastime of playing with one’s own thumbs. The common phrase, while occasionally implying a state of involuntary inactivity, more often describes mere goofing off.

You’d have all the world do nothing half its time but twiddle its thumbs. (Douglas Jerrold, Mrs. Caudle’s Curtain Lecture, 1846)

ThesaurusAntonymsRelated WordsSynonymsLegend:
Noun1.idleness - having no employmentidleness - having no employment      
inactivity - being inactive; being less active
dolce far niente - carefree idleness
2.idleness - the quality of lacking substance or value; "the groundlessness of their report was quickly recognized"
worthlessness, ineptitude - having no qualities that would render it valuable or useful; "the drill sergeant's intent was to convince all the recruits of their worthlessness"
3.idleness - the trait of being idle out of a reluctance to work
indolence, laziness - inactivity resulting from a dislike of work


1. inactivity, unemployment, leisure, inaction, time on your hands Idleness is a very bad thing for human nature.
2. loafing, inertia, sloth, pottering, trifling, laziness, time-wasting, lazing, torpor, sluggishness, skiving (Brit. slang), vegetating, dilly-dallying (informal), shiftlessness Idleness and incompetence are not inbred in our workers.
"Idleness is the only refuge of weak minds" [Lord Chesterfield Letters to his Son]


1. A lack of action or activity:
2. The quality or state of being lazy:
Informal: do-nothingism.
تَعَطُّل، كَسَل، تَكاسُل
leti; iîjuleysi


[ˈaɪdlnɪs] N
1. (= leisure) → ocio m, ociosidad f; (= having nothing to do) → inactividad f, desocupación f; (= laziness) → holgazanería f, pereza f, flojera f (LAm); (= unemployment) → paro m, desempleo m (LAm)
to live a life of idlenessllevar una vida ociosa
she was frustrated by her enforced idlenessla desesperaba su forzada inactividad
2. (= emptiness) [of threat, promise] → lo vano; [of gossip, talk] → banalidad f, insustancialidad f


[ˈaɪdəlnɪs] n
(= lack of occupation) → désœuvrement m
(= laziness) → oisiveté f


(= state of not working)Untätigkeit f; (pleasurable) → Muße f, → Müßiggang (liter) m; to live in idlenessein untätiges Leben führen, ein Leben der Muße führen (liter); a life of blissful idlenessein Leben voller köstlicher Muße
(= laziness)Faulheit f, → Trägheit f
(of promise, threat, words)Leere f; (of speculation, talk)Müßigkeit f; (of remark)Beiläufigkeit f; (= uselessness)Nutzlosigkeit f, → Vergeblichkeit f, → Eitelkeit f (old)


[ˈaɪdlnɪs] npigrizia, ozio


(ˈaidl) adjective
1. not working; not in use. ships lying idle in the harbour.
2. lazy. He has work to do, but he's idle and just sits around.
3. having no effect or result. idle threats.
4. unnecessary; without good reason or foundation. idle fears; idle gossip.
1. to be idle or do nothing. On holiday they just idled from morning till night.
2. of an engine etc, to run gently without doing any work. They kept the car engine idling while they checked their position with the map.
ˈidler noun
a lazy person.
ˈidleness noun
ˈidly adverb
idle away
to spend (time) doing nothing. idling the hours away.
References in classic literature ?
Beth kept on, with only slight relapses into idleness or grieving.
He told some amusing plantation experiences, recollections of old Iberville and his youth, when he hunted `possum in company with some friendly darky; thrashed the pecan trees, shot the grosbec, and roamed the woods and fields in mischievous idleness.
The knaves know our weakness," whispered Hawkeye, who stood by the side of Heyward, in deep shade, looking through an opening in the logs, "or they wouldn't indulge their idleness in such a squaw's march.
And, finally, her great life-trial seems to be, that, after sixty years of idleness, she finds it convenient to earn comfortable bread by setting up a shop in a small way.
Rusty through long idleness, some little space was requisite before my intellectual machinery could be brought to work upon the tale with an effect in any degree satisfactory.
Moreover, the ship's forge was ordered to be hoisted out of its temporary idleness in the hold; and, to accelerate the affair, the blacksmith was commanded to proceed at once to the forging of whatever iron contrivances might be needed.
He could not bear any careless loitering and waste of time; and nothing was so near making him angry as to find people, who were always late, wanting a cab horse to be driven hard, to make up for their idleness.
After the triumph of the international proletariat, war would of course be inconceivable; and who can figure the cost of war to humanity--not merely the value of the lives and the material that it destroys, not merely the cost of keeping millions of men in idleness, of arming and equipping them for battle and parade, but the drain upon the vital energies of society by the war attitude and the war terror, the brutality and ignorance, the drunkenness, prostitution, and crime it entails, the industrial impotence and the moral deadness?
The callous palms of the laborer are conversant with finer tissues of self-respect and heroism, whose touch thrills the heart, than the languid fingers of idleness.
But this waiting interval was not wasted in idleness by the assembled students.
It would be better to explore some of these than bear the weight of the heavy time in idleness.
The two livery stables were crowded with vehicles of all sorts, and lines of buggies and wagons were drawn up along the sides of the shady roads, the horses switching their tails in luxurious idleness.