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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.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


  • 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.
Farlex Trivia Dictionary. © 2012 Farlex, Inc. All rights reserved.




  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
Similes Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1988 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.



(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)

Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.


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]
Collins Thesaurus of the English Language – Complete and Unabridged 2nd Edition. 2002 © HarperCollins Publishers 1995, 2002


1. A lack of action or activity:
2. The quality or state of being lazy:
Informal: do-nothingism.
The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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
Collins Spanish Dictionary - Complete and Unabridged 8th Edition 2005 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1971, 1988 © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2005


[ˈaɪdəlnɪs] n
(= lack of occupation) → désœuvrement m
(= laziness) → oisiveté f
Collins English/French Electronic Resource. © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


(= 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)
Collins German Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 7th Edition 2005. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1980 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007


[ˈaɪdlnɪs] npigrizia, ozio
Collins Italian Dictionary 1st Edition © HarperCollins Publishers 1995


(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.
Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd.
References in classic literature ?
Fallen man has retained a love of idleness, but the curse weighs on the race not only because we have to seek our bread in the sweat of our brows, but because our moral nature is such that we cannot be both idle and at ease.
The Ox saw what was being done, and said with a smile to the Heifer: "For this you were allowed to live in idleness, because you were presently to be sacrificed."
To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooneers of this world must start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of toil.
His father was a narrow-minded trader and saw idleness and ruin in the aspirations and ambition of his son.
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.
But this waiting interval was not wasted in idleness by the assembled students.
Mighty Love the hearts of maidens Doth unsettle and perplex, And the instrument he uses Most of all is idleness.
But the reason why he wants sometimes to go off at a tangent may just be that he is predestined to make the road, and perhaps, too, that however stupid the "direct" practical man may be, the thought sometimes will occur to him that the road almost always does lead somewhere, and that the destination it leads to is less important than the process of making it, and that the chief thing is to save the well-conducted child from despising engineering, and so giving way to the fatal idleness, which, as we all know, is the mother of all the vices.
There are regrets, memories, the instinctive longing for the departed idleness, the instinctive hate of all work.
I really am quite ashamed of my idleness; but in this horrid place one can find time for nothing.
She may have had no particular feeling for him, but succumbed to his wish from propinquity or idleness, to find then that she was powerless in a snare of her own contriving.
He honestly mistook his sensuality for romantic emotion, his vacillation for the artistic temperament, and his idleness for philosophic calm.