verb (used without object), dab·bled, dab·bling.

  1. to play and splash in or as if in water, especially with the hands.
  2. to work at anything in an irregular or superficial manner: to dabble in literature.
  3. (of a duck) to feed on shallow-water vegetation with rapid, splashing movements of the bill.

verb (used with object), dab·bled, dab·bling.

  1. to wet slightly in or with a liquid; splash; spatter.
  2. Chiefly South Midland U.S. to wash or rinse off lightly.


  1. to dip, move, or splash (the fingers, feet, etc) in a liquid
  2. (intr; usually foll by in, with, or at) to deal (with) or work (at) frivolously or superficially; play (at)
  3. (tr) to daub, mottle, splash, or smearhis face was dabbled with paint

1550s, probably a frequentative of dab. Original meaning was “wet by splashing;” modern figurative sense of “do superficially” first recorded 1620s. Related: Dabbled; dabbling. An Ellen Dablewife is in the Lancashire Inquests from 1336.

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