1. a musical instrument of the viol family.
  2. violin: Her aunt plays first fiddle with the state symphony orchestra.
  3. Nautical. a small ledge or barrier raised in heavy weather to keep dishes, pots, utensils, etc., from sliding off tables and stoves.
  4. British Informal. swindle; fraud.

verb (used without object), fid·dled, fid·dling.

  1. to play on the fiddle.
  2. to make trifling or fussing movements with the hands (often followed by with): fiddling with his cuffs.
  3. to touch or manipulate something, as to operate or adjust it; tinker (often followed by with): You may have to fiddle with the antenna to get a clear picture on the TV.
  4. to waste time; trifle; dally (often followed by around): Stop fiddling around and get to work.
  5. British Informal. to cheat.

verb (used with object), fid·dled, fid·dling.

  1. to play (a tune) on a fiddle.
  2. to trifle or waste (usually used with away): to fiddle time away.
  3. Bookbinding. to bind together (sections or leaves of a book) by threading a cord through holes cut lengthwise into the back.
  4. British Informal.
    1. to falsify: to fiddle the account books.
    2. to cheat: to fiddle the company out of expense money.
  1. fine as a fiddle, South Midland and Southern U.S. fiddle(def 15).
  2. fit as a fiddle, in perfect health; very fit: The doctor told him he was fit as a fiddle.Also as fit as a fiddle.
  3. play second fiddle. second fiddle.


  1. informal any instrument of the viol or violin family, esp the violin
  2. a violin played as a folk instrument
  3. time-wasting or trifling behaviour; nonsense; triviality
  4. nautical a small railing around the top of a table to prevent objects from falling off it in bad weather
  5. British informal an illegal or fraudulent transaction or arrangement
  6. British informal a manually delicate or tricky operation
  7. at the fiddle or on the fiddle informal engaged in an illegal or fraudulent undertaking
  8. face as long as a fiddle informal a dismal or gloomy facial expression
  9. fit as a fiddle informal in very good health
  10. play second fiddle informal to be subordinate; play a minor part


  1. to play (a tune) on the fiddle
  2. (intr often foll by with) to make restless or aimless movements with the hands
  3. (when intr, often foll by about or around) informal to spend (time) or act in a careless or inconsequential manner; waste (time)
  4. (often foll by with) informal to tamper or interfere (with)
  5. informal to contrive to do (something) by illicit means or deceptionhe fiddled his way into a position of trust
  6. (tr) informal to falsify (accounts, etc); swindle

late 14c., from fiddle (n.); the figurative sense of “to act nervously or idly” is from 1520s. Related: Fiddled; fiddling.


late 14c., fedele, earlier fithele, from Old English fiðele, which is related to Old Norse fiðla, Middle Dutch vedele, Dutch vedel, Old High German fidula, German Fiedel; all of uncertain origin.

Perhaps from Medieval Latin vitula “stringed instrument,” which is perhaps related to Latin vitularia “celebrate joyfully,” from Vitula, Roman goddess of joy and victory, who probably, like her name, originated among the Sabines [Klein, Barnhart]. Unless the Medieval Latin word is from the Germanic ones.

Fiddle has been relegated to colloquial usage by its more proper cousin, violin, a process encouraged by phraseology such as fiddlesticks, contemptuous nonsense word fiddlededee (1784), and fiddle-faddle. Fit as a fiddle is from 1610s.

Another name for the violin; fiddle is the more common term for the instrument as played in folk music and bluegrass.

In addition to the idiom beginning with fiddle

  • fiddle while Rome burns

also see:

  • fit as a fiddle
  • hang up (one’s fiddle)
  • play second fiddle

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