Definition of fumble in English:



  • 1 Do or handle something clumsily.

    ‘she fumbled with the lock’
    • ‘He fumbled with his keys, and then slid as quickly as he could into the car, locking the doors securely.’
    • ‘She waited as someone on the other side fumbled with the numerous locks.’
    • ‘I fumbled with my keys and then gave him a half-wave before I went inside my house.’
    • ‘Karmina and Elada were waiting as Lavada fumbled with the lock on her locker.’
    • ‘Without even looking up at her, the woman nodded and fumbled with her keys.’
    • ‘Jason fumbled with his keys, laughing, until Bruce got impatient and took the keys away from him.’
    • ‘Sharai grinned upon seeing me run out the door before, absentminded as I am; I ran back and fumbled with my keys to lock the door.’
    • ‘It shouted something inaudible over the roar of flames and fumbled with the locks on my ankles.’
    • ‘He stopped before it while the guard fumbled with his keys.’
    • ‘What a horrible night, she thought as she fumbled with the key in the door.’
    • ‘Walking like a drunkard, Elizabeth made her way to her door and fumbled with the lock on the doorknob while vaguely wondering why the heck it was locked in the first place.’
    • ‘She fumbled with her keys, blinking to keep her eyes clear of the fogginess that had dared to creep upon her.’
    • ‘He fumbled with the truck keys, panicking, and started the truck.’
    • ‘He reached his door and pulled out his key and fumbled with the lock.’
    • ‘The Head of House fumbled with a key code on a panel next to a mahogany door across the room.’
    • ‘Instead, I fumbled with the obvious lock, pushing it as hard as I could, and eventually, it budged.’
    • ‘I fumbled with my keys and cell phone, trying to start the car and call Kelli simultaneously.’
    • ‘He reached the main door, and fumbled with his key.’
    • ‘I stifled a yawn as I fumbled with the key, finally sticking it in correctly and turning the lock.’
    • ‘‘I should have put more planning into my plan’ said Mauritania as Jess tried fumbled with keys in the infinite number of locks on the door.’
    grope, feel about, search blindly, scrabble around, muddle around
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    1. 1.1Move clumsily in various directions using the hands to find one's way.
      ‘he fumbled about in the dark but could not find her’
      • ‘The morning after I flew back home for spring break, I found myself fumbling around the kitchen cabinets for breakfast food that didn't boast high-fiber content.’
      • ‘So much for greater cultural understanding when you're fumbling around with your Berlitz phrasebook while gesticulating wildly at your intended interlocutor.’
      • ‘The first album came from confused young men in their late teenage years who were fumbling around in the dark for a career and a girlfriend.’
      • ‘I was sitting in Panera Bread last night, fumbling around with proxies in an attempt to get around their ham-fisted network filtering.’
      • ‘This approach has led many to wonder if the apparent madness in the method is deliberate or if he is fumbling around aimlessly.’
      • ‘All at sea and like strangers fumbling around in the dark for the light switch, the City defence was so brittle it was a surprise the creaks couldn't be heard back in North Yorkshire.’
      • ‘She clumsily opened her book and fumbled around for her pen.’
      • ‘Clumsily fumbling around in his personal possessions with fingers which had fallen half-asleep, the emissary produced a neatly rolled-up paper and handed it over to the scaly hand before him.’
      • ‘Most of us have experienced a temporary loss of electricity and know the helpless feeling of fumbling around for a flashlight or matches and candles.’
      • ‘He sits bolt upright, his hand fumbling around for the reading glasses.’
      • ‘Ian Mackintosh says that until there's some disclosure of non-material expenses the regulator is fumbling around in the dark when it comes to investigating this area.’
      • ‘Also some of the buttons have a raised edge to help the visually impaired, but which are also handy when you're fumbling around for the pause button in the dark.’
      • ‘Clumsily, he fumbled around for tissues, but couldn't find any.’
      • ‘I mean, when I visit people I actually do know really well, I'm not opening cabinets, snooping around the bathroom, fumbling around in closets.’
      • ‘A White House official told me Friday night that, after fumbling around for days, practically every White House agency was getting involved in coping with Katrina.’
      • ‘They're meant to be intuitive type of commands, not where you're not fumbling around trying to figure out what to say.’
      • ‘Before, you're mostly just fumbling around in the dark, hoping that nods of approval from editors reflect the attitude of the general literary audience, but not really having any idea.’
      • ‘Still holding on to both the ledge and the beam, she moved one foot up and fumbled around trying to find a stepping ledge to use.’
      • ‘Considering the outlandish wages paid, in a game of very little hardship, the least we should expect is entertainment, and not fumbling around like kids in the local park.’
      • ‘The subhead says, ‘But most of us are still fumbling around in the information stone age.’’
      stumble, blunder, flounder, lumber, bumble, stagger, totter, lurch, move clumsily, move awkwardly
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    2. 1.2[with object and adverbial]Use the hands clumsily to move (something) as specified.
      ‘she fumbled a cigarette from her bag’
      • ‘After returning from the airport, having said goodbye, I sat on the verandah and looked out at the night, fumbling a cigarette, its fire the only bright spot.’
      • ‘Phoenix fumbled a bit with the keys in his rush to get in, and it took a few seconds to get the door unlocked.’
      • ‘The street light gag, fumbling the cigarettes?’
      • ‘I lost sight of him among the trees, but what I did see made me fumble my cigarette into my lap.’
      • ‘I noticed a no smoking sign hanging on the wall so I fumbled a cigarette out of the pack and lit it.’
      • ‘He fumbled the key into the padlock, his gaze warily watching one of the three remaining ants.’
      • ‘‘Whatever,’ he mumbled, fumbling his pockets for his keys.’
      • ‘I found the door to my room and fumbled the keys out of my pocket.’
      • ‘After spending seventeen minutes in blackness, trying to fumble the lock of the cellar open, Jack Moore kicked the door open with a curse and began climbing the stairs.’
      • ‘Throwing her Hello Kitty book bag on the passenger seat Lynette fumbled the key into the ignition.’
      scrabble, fish, ferret, ferret about, ferret around, rummage, rummage about, rummage around, rummage round, root about, root around, feel, cast about, cast around, cast round, search, hunt, look
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    3. 1.3[with object](in ball games) fail to catch or field (the ball) cleanly.
      ‘have you ever seen him fumble a ball?’
      [no object] ‘the keeper fumbled’
      • ‘Instead, Curry fumbles the ball slightly, blowing the chance for a dunk.’
      • ‘But he must protect the ball better after fumbling 12 times last season.’
      • ‘The ball is fumbled, it comes loose, and the opposing team picks it up and runs - but a whistle has blown, negating the recovery and the return.’
      • ‘Under no pressure whatsoever, Kalac catches an easy ball, then fumbles it, falls on his knees and nearly pushes it into his own net with his nose, like a puppy.’
      • ‘It takes some skill to pull the pitch off because if you do it with any little bit of mistiming you will fumble the ball away.’
      • ‘The ball bounced in front of Scott Carson, who should have saved comfortably but could only fumble the ball over the line off his upper arm.’
      • ‘The ball found its way to Aidan Kehoe but the corner forward fumbled it but the ball fell fortuitously to McGill who crashed it to the net.’
      • ‘He made a grab for it and at the same time fell over the stumps, fumbled the ball and dropped it.’
      • ‘Green, one of the top backs in the league, fumbled the ball seven times in the first nine games last year.’
      • ‘He is used primarily as a blocker, but be is adept at getting open, catching the ball and not fumbling.’
      • ‘The Crigglestone fullback fumbled the ball allowing Neil Kennedy and Ian Barnes to get their hands on the ball at the same time just before the ball went dead.’
      • ‘Vick finally escapes the pocket and fumbles the ball, but luckily for Atlanta it goes out of bounds.’
      • ‘Cody was much less productive, fumbling the ball at crucial times and finding his way into coach Dave McGinnis' doghouse.’
      • ‘Sometimes that philosophy gets Green in trouble because he fumbles the ball too much.’
      • ‘This newfound power decreases the chances of Plummer throwing an interception at the goal line or fumbling the ball at the worst possible moment.’
      • ‘However, on first down our big fella fumbles the ball and it bounces right into the hands of one of the players on the other team.’
      • ‘Though the plan to give Henry a heavier workload is a good one, he must show he can consistently hang on to the ball after fumbling 11 times in 2002.’
      fail to catch, miss, drop, mishandle, handle awkwardly
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    4. 1.4Express oneself or deal with something clumsily or nervously.
      ‘Michael had fumbled for words’
      • ‘It was fun because he kept fumbling over his words and finally, when he gathered his composure, invited me to a party and gave me a flyer.’
      • ‘We, fumbling for words of love, remember the rockets the spinning wheels, the sudden diamonds and say with delight ‘Yes, like that, like that’’
      • ‘Ayden, in another state of shock, fumbled to find words.’
      • ‘I've met some reasonably powerful people in the world, and there's usually an aura that is quite difficult to crack, and you fumble for your words.’
      • ‘But he did try his best, fumbling over his words.’
      • ‘She no longer is the same shy woman who fumbled for words when the sordid episode broke out.’
      • ‘I felt a resigned smile tug at my lips as I watched him, still not calmed down from the moment we'd shared and fumbling for words.’
      • ‘Taking that as his cue to leave the kitchen before he fumbled over his words and messed things up more than they already were, he managed to leave with a small excuse for her to call him back.’
      • ‘James asked, his speech fumbling over the words carefully.’
      • ‘There was a moment in our conversation when both of us fumbled for words and fell into a brief, awkward silence.’
      • ‘He reached Lee's office, and inched inside, fumbling for words.’
      • ‘Gazing at the floor with glossy eyes, the thunderous chant of his name still ringing in his ears, he fumbles for words to describe his euphoria.’
      • ‘The mayor, fumbling for words of succor at a press conference, had suggested that God's will was somehow behind those who got out alive.’
      • ‘Mimi nervously tugged at her shirt, and fumbled for words.’
      • ‘It was fun watching a seasoned politician almost fumbling for words at an apolitical function.’
      • ‘I began fumbling for words to say in response, still struggling to get over the fact that Tristan was, indeed, a Gypsy.’
      • ‘Orion was fumbling for words to reply to her with.’
      • ‘Jay snuggled back down into his goose down pillows and picked up a tennis ball to ideally throw at the ceiling, then he looked at Chris who was still fumbling with his words.’
      • ‘You looked into her eyes, your mouth fumbling for the words.’
      • ‘‘They came back, they were back after me again,’ she spoke quickly and rapidly, fumbling for words over the choking of her tears.’
      botch, bungle, mismanage, mishandle, spoil
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  • 1[usually in singular] An act of doing or handling something clumsily.

    ‘just one fumble during a tyre change could separate the winners from the losers’
    • ‘Yeah, the instructions make it so simple that even a child can go through it confidently, without a falter nor a fumble.’
    1. 1.1informal An act of fondling someone for sexual pleasure.
      ‘a quick fumble in a downtown tavern’
      • ‘When his bed got wet in a water fight, he sneaked under Sakia's covers for a fumble.’
      • ‘Earlier, two contestants hopped into bed together for a drink-fuelled fumble in the first spot of canoodling of the series.’
      • ‘Try to ensure that yours doesn't kick off with a drunken fumble on the photocopier - it could be awkward when your children want to know how Mummy and Daddy met.’
      • ‘Why go through all that hassle for the sake of a fumble?’
      • ‘Now the cash registers go ker-ching every time there's a fumble beneath the bed sheets.’
      • ‘Have sex when you're awake, not just at the end of the day when it's a quick fumble before you fall asleep.’
      • ‘It might just have to be a three-way tongue-kiss and a fumble, but still.’
      • ‘It's not that I don't want one, it's just I never get the offer of anything other than a drunken fumble.’
      fondle, grope, caress, hug, embrace, cuddle
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    2. 1.2(in ball games) an act of failing to catch or field the ball cleanly.
      ‘he recovered a fumble after a bad exchange’
      • ‘Saxton had been guilty of a bad fumble early in the half but it seemed to spur him on and he showed good strength to power his way over after cutting back in from the right.’
      • ‘He registered two sacks, blocked a field goal and recovered a fumble.’
      • ‘Former defensive end Bob Dee recovered a fumble in the endzone in the Patriots' first preseason game on July 30, 1960.’
      • ‘A scramble from a corner and a fumble by Jones almost conceded a second goal to the visitors as Ilkley found it difficult to cope with the commitment and determination of the Stanley players.’
      • ‘He opened the scoring with a penalty and made the most of a firth fumble to race 80 metres up field, and add the conversion.’
      • ‘In two preseason games, he returned a fumble for a touchdown (before a penalty nullified the play), and he blocked a punt for a safety.’
      • ‘They tell Suggs that he better pitch the ball back if he recovers a fumble or intercepts a pass, but he doesn't seem to listen.’
      • ‘By now you know all the terminology, but you don't know if a bouncing ball is a fumble until you watch it on replay from five different angles.’
      • ‘So when he spiked it was a live ball - a fumble - grabbed by Jax and returned almost to the Steelers' goal line.’
      • ‘Tennessee had just recovered a fumble at midfield late in the third quarter of its playoff game against the Patriots.’
      • ‘An alert Jaguars defensive player scooped up the ball and returned the fumble 43 yards.’
      • ‘Three starters return from last year's unit that was the worst in the league - its highlight coming when an offensive lineman picked up a fumble and scored in an upset victory over Missouri.’
      • ‘The Cobbydale side took the late after 17 minutes when matt Bowness pounced on a fumble from the full back and John Williams added the conversion.’
      • ‘He registered eight tackles, had two sacks, recovered a fumble and blocked a field goal - all despite being blocked most of the game by a tackle and tight end.’
      • ‘Culpepper made two critical mistakes - a fumble on the goal line and, to a lesser extent, the game-ending interception.’
      • ‘Worst of all, Burress did the same thing just two years ago and on that play, the officials ruled the ball a fumble.’
      • ‘Months earlier, in the preseason, Barton intercepted two passes and returned a fumble for a score - all in one quarter - against Arizona.’
      • ‘He stripped the ball from Bulger and caught the fumble for a touchdown to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the St. Louis Rams 34-17.’
      • ‘And the ref is ‘part of the field,’ which makes this a - fumble!’
      • ‘On the next play, special teams got into the act, forcing a fumble by John Simon and setting up a field goal for a seven-point lead at the half.’
      slip, miss, drop, mishandling
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    3. 1.3An act of managing or dealing with something clumsily.
      ‘we are not talking about subtle errors of judgement, but major fumbles’
      • ‘I made a major fumble last night in modifying the journal files and creating a new one for the day's new entry.’


Late Middle English: from Low German fommeln or Dutch fommelen.