adjective, i·dler, i·dlest.

  1. not working or active; unemployed; doing nothing: idle workers.
  2. not spent or filled with activity: idle hours.
  3. not in use or operation; not kept busy: idle machinery.
  4. habitually doing nothing or avoiding work; lazy.
  5. of no real worth, importance, or significance: idle talk.
  6. having no basis or reason; baseless; groundless: idle fears.
  7. frivolous; vain: idle pleasures.
  8. meaningless; senseless: idle threats.
  9. futile; unavailing: idle rage.

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

  1. to pass time doing nothing.
  2. to move, loiter, or saunter aimlessly: to idle along the avenue.
  3. (of a machine, engine, or mechanism) to operate at a low speed, disengaged from the load.

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

  1. to pass (time) doing nothing (often followed by away): to idle away the afternoon.
  2. to cause (a person) to be idle: The strike idled many workers.
  3. to cause (a machine, engine, or mechanism) to idle: I waited in the car while idling the engine.


  1. the state or quality of being idle.
  2. the state of a machine, engine, or mechanism that is idling: a cold engine that stalls at idle.


  1. unemployed or unoccupied; inactive
  2. not operating or being used
  3. (of money) not being used to earn interest or dividends
  4. not wanting to work; lazy
  5. (usually prenominal) frivolous or trivialidle pleasures
  6. ineffective or powerless; fruitless; vain
  7. without basis; unfounded


  1. (when tr, often foll by away) to waste or pass (time) fruitlessly or inactivelyhe idled the hours away
  2. (intr) to loiter or move aimlessly
  3. (intr) (of a shaft, engine, etc) to turn without doing useful work
  4. (intr) (of an engine) to run at low speed with the transmission disengagedAlso (Brit): tick over
  5. (tr) US and Canadian to cause to be inactive or unemployed

Old English idellice; see idle + -ly (2).


Old English idel “empty, void; vain; worthless, useless; not employed,” common West Germanic (cf. Old Saxon idal, Old Frisian idel “empty, worthless,” Old Dutch idil, Old High German ital, German eitel “vain, useless, mere, pure”), of unknown origin. Idle threats preserves original sense; meaning “lazy” is c.1300.


late 15c., “make vain or worthless,” from idle (adj.). Meaning “spend or waste (time)” is from 1650s. Meaning “cause to be idle” is from 1789. Sense of “running slowly and steadily without transmitting power” (as a motor) first recorded 1916. Related: Idled; idling.

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