Definition of idle in US English:



  • 1(of a person) avoiding work; lazy.

    • ‘The common criticism aimed at the overweight is that they are idle, yet nothing could be further from the truth.’
    • ‘He had been too curious a child to sit idle in his quarters for the rest of the day, and secretly he ventured out to the many corridors in which he had never been.’
    • ‘Man would have been encouraged by this to be lazy and idle.’
    • ‘Anyhow, a pretty trivial post, but if you managed to read this far you must really like my writing cause I honestly think I'm very idle.’
    • ‘Mr Williams and others who write to the papers contrive to imply that council staff are uniquely undeserving idle bureaucrats or lazy workmen.’
    • ‘Should they be idle, they may be whipped; however, if they work hard, they are to be treated without reproach, and are well used.’
    • ‘If she is good, she will have a proper bedroom and all the chocolates and taxi rides she desires, but if she is idle, Mrs. Pearce will wallop her with a broom.’
    • ‘I realise now that I was idle in doing research in these years because of the pressure of teaching and other business to which I was not accustomed.’
    • ‘Those hours we allow ourselves to remain idle - to give body and mind a rest - can be our most productive times.’
    • ‘Either way, I will not sit idle for the rest of my life, and you do not have the power to make me.’
    • ‘I was starting to get sick of being under-motivated, lazy, and idle.’
    • ‘They always claim to work hard, but in truth they're nothing but lazy idle sluggards!’
    • ‘There's another myth that Zhao was so lazy and idle that he would only come down to the world on the fifth day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.’
    • ‘Almost day in and day out we hear how our technologists have become somewhat morbid, they're idle, they are incapable of innovation.’
    • ‘Not that he was absolutely idle, or averse to business then; far from it.’
    • ‘We drink too much, we eat the wrong food, we are idle, we are unadventurous.’
    • ‘Not one to rest idle, the success of Fat Bastard has inspired Guy Anderson to take his concept to Spain.’
    • ‘I also believed that children weren't lazy, idle, unmotivated, all the usual list of adjectives the oppressor puts on the oppressed.’
    • ‘The government hasn't done anything to help students, they are perceived as lazy and idle where they go to university to socialise, that's not the case.’
    • ‘Smith's wealth coincided with a dip in his public profile, but he was not idle.’
    lazy, indolent, slothful, work-shy, shiftless, loafing, inactive, inert, sluggish, lethargic, languorous, listless, torpid
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    1. 1.1 (of a person) not working; unemployed.
      • ‘Now, Mr Kelly, just to ensure that you are not idle over the luncheon adjournment, there is one further thing that we would like you to do for us.’
      • ‘This was an England full of rich and idle people whose mostly misguided attempts to get married, avoid getting married, and so forth, could be made richly comic - if you like that sort of thing.’
      • ‘But we are not idle, there are cotton expeditions out all the time.’
      • ‘As an early principal she was scarcely idle, and that was the way she wanted it.’
      • ‘Her perception was that the poor were more likely to be victims of drug abuse since they were mostly idle.’
      • ‘These students, bored and idle, may turn to making trouble to gain attention and keep interested in what's happening around them.’
      • ‘Personally, I don't have a boss, and I like to let my contacts know when I am idle - usually means I am on the phone or otherwise busy.’
      • ‘However, this did not mean that he was professionally idle.’
      • ‘In that time they were not idle; game was plentiful, and they hunted, roasting and drying meat, which they ate and added to their provisions.’
      • ‘Usually so busy writing or revising articles or taking notes, she was idle.’
      • ‘The most talented among them had been creamed off for local-government jobs, leaving the rest idle.’
      • ‘The job of the Archphilarchs is to oversee the people and make sure that nobody is idle and not working hard.’
      • ‘In the eight months between Lanarkshire and Lancashire he was not idle.’
      • ‘Not that I am idle, I got my daughter well educated, up to MSc., then fixed up with a software man in Bangalore.’
      • ‘But the audience is thinning these days and Yadagiri says he is idle more than six months a year.’
      • ‘The idle rich of the day flocked to this elaborate mansion to be entertained by lavish masquerade balls and concerts, organised by a mysterious female impresario called Teresa Cornelys.’
      • ‘While there has been a break in activities and a good rest the team have not been completely idle.’
      • ‘Only fifteen women, a smaller percentage than that of men, reported that they were idle or had no occupation.’
      unemployed, jobless, out of work, out of a job, redundant, between jobs, workless, unwaged, unoccupied
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    2. 1.2 (especially of a machine or factory) not active or in use.
      ‘assembly lines standing idle for lack of spare parts’
      • ‘System Restore is a new feature that backs up vital system files when the machine is idle, by default taking a system snapshot every 10 hours.’
      • ‘The forwards also seemed intent on glory as several rolling mauls were stopped dead in their tracks when the wingers were standing idle and unmarked on the flanks.’
      • ‘It sounded like a generator or the engine of a diesel truck but with a deeper sound and intervals that were not as fast as you would hear the revs of an idle engine.’
      • ‘In addition many take on extra workers at this time of year who still have to be paid, even though combine harvesters are standing idle.’
      • ‘The unit in Castlebar is currently standing idle.’
      • ‘Nearly 3,000 trucks were standing idle without locomotives, two-thirds of them loaded with evacuated equipment.’
      • ‘It was going to be a harsh Christmas for Rolls Royce workers, whose strike entered its fifth week with no prospect of a settlement before the factory, which stood idle, closing down for the two week break.’
      • ‘Show secretary Tim Gardner said fears that many farmers would not risk leaving their combine harvesters standing idle had not materialised.’
      • ‘Volunteers download a software programme that can help crunch numbers when their machines are idle.’
      • ‘But establishing aviation records was one thing - an idle factory was another.’
      • ‘When the children have gone home, these computer facilities and the broadband connections are just standing idle.’
      • ‘Suppliers can be caught with open capacity, idle machinery or tools and non-utilization of new leading edge technologies or processes.’
      • ‘Huge machines stood idle with only few visible workers.’
      • ‘Alternatively, it can be switched on when the engine is idle, to heat the car interior.’
      • ‘Factories are idle, and small shopkeepers have been squeezed out of business.’
      • ‘Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor, the nation's largest mini mill, recently purchased Trico, an idle mill in Alabama.’
      • ‘We have had an advance factory at Shandon lying idle for several years, and ultimately it was nothing more than a grandiose target for the vandals.’
      • ‘Power-management systems that put idle machines and monitors to sleep have also had an effect.’
      • ‘In the case of part-time employees, machinery in the respondent's clothing factory laid idle.’
      • ‘The machines are sitting idle with the ground so wet they cannot work.’
      not in use, out of use, not operating, not working, inactive, out of action, inoperative, non-functioning, out of service, unused, unoccupied, unemployed
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    3. 1.3attributive (of time) characterized by inaction or absence of significant activity.
      ‘at no time in the day must there be an idle moment’
      • ‘During idle moments I read medical journals such as the Australian Women's Weekly.’
      • ‘There is only so much scope for attracting more mobile business users into coffee shops, and keeping them busy in their otherwise idle moments in airports and hotel lobbies.’
      • ‘Imagine, for example, that you have an idle moment while stuck in traffic.’
      • ‘He subjected his workforce to a draconian regime, leaving no room for an idle moment - instant dismissal followed the detection of a man sitting down.’
      • ‘Bierce is always amusing, and the idle moment spent picking through his definitions is never wasted.’
      • ‘What's more, it's a passing-the-time issue, something extra to do with an idle moment.’
      • ‘One summer day, I spent several idle moments beside a still, shallow creek near my home, trying to goad the water striders there into flying.’
      • ‘Give an imaginative type an idle moment and suddenly everyone's some strange offshoot of the human race.’
      • ‘In an idle moment I went into one of the shops and let the staff demonstrate the miracle to me.’
      • ‘For those with an enthusiasm for all things Franklin, Lehrer's book may provide some idle moments of enjoyment.’
      • ‘The other day, I was feeling around my mouth with my tongue in an idle moment.’
      • ‘You would always remember Alami, and you would do the things that she might have spoken of in an idle moment, as every memory twisted in your heart.’
      • ‘In this way, I can use the few idle moments when my computer is printing or saving a file to memorize a correspondence or two.’
      • ‘Meanwhile, the women will spend any idle moment weaving those offering baskets - instant, perfect, throwaway works of art.’
      • ‘The girls act and react naturally playing volleyball, sometimes eating a mouth full of sand on missed dive returns or just stretching during idle moments.’
      • ‘In my idle moments I often wonder how the wee thing goes with pronouncing ‘Mistersingha’?’
      • ‘Nobody can accuse ME of not using my idle time wisely.’
      • ‘An idle moment passed before there was a knock at the door.’
      • ‘Although it seemed like he had gotten over it quickly it still plagued him at idle moments.’
      • ‘Hamish shook his head from the thoughts invading his head like her face did at every idle moment when she wasn't around.’
      unoccupied, spare, empty, vacant, unfilled, available
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    4. 1.4 (of money) held in cash or in accounts paying no interest.
      • ‘Minimise idle cash balances by banking money quickly and seeking best investment rates.’
      • ‘As treasurer of EMC, the data storage company, she puts a chunk of her company's idle cash into money funds nearly every day.’
      • ‘Gold prices overseas have been rising as a large amount of idle money flowed into the gold markets worldwide due to the weak dollar.’
      • ‘Only ultra-wealthy geeks like Allen, who have the interest and the idle cash, can afford to put millions at risk.’
      • ‘Volume II has also shown how money is continuously entering and leaving the circuits of capital, creating a pool of idle money.’
  • 2Without purpose or effect; pointless.

    ‘he did not want to waste valuable time in idle chatter’
    • ‘In the company of others, she exchanged idle chit-chat with Plato before the rest of the bloggers dispersed amongst the thinning crowd.’
    • ‘He stood alone on the terrace, avoiding idle conversations with men he knew he had little in common with.’
    • ‘The rest of the breakfast was spent on idle talk of travel, and of the old woman telling me about Irish life.’
    • ‘The three of us made idle chatter, mostly about unimportant things.’
    • ‘The decibel level inside the Post newsroom gave the rumor credence far beyond idle chatter.’
    • ‘They spent the rest of the day in idle talk and dozing off when their exhaustion caught up to them.’
    • ‘To reap the biggest benefits from having someone to train with, however, you need to avoid the idle chitchat and follow these guidelines on how to spot properly.’
    • ‘I tucked the idea away, however, sticking it back of my left ear where such stuff goes to percolate and a few days later started to make an idle list of names in my writing notebook.’
    • ‘That was the whole purpose of the idle chatter, to keep the minds of the courtiers from overthrowing the dynasty.’
    • ‘They ate the rest of dinner making idle small talk and getting a feel for each other.’
    • ‘The audience didn't seem to mind - and perhaps the strongest endorsement for this film is the fact that there was no idle chatter in the auditorium.’
    • ‘There is, of course, no chance of a similar ban on trains to prevent idle chatterers driving the rest of us round the twist.’
    • ‘In the past it hasn't drawn more than a moment of idle curiosity, but since I've started paying more attention to signs of magic going on around me I wonder if this might not be part of some kind of money magic?’
    • ‘Now, little boy, enough of this pointless, idle chit chat.’
    • ‘I guess I felt that my mind was shriveled up with idle chatter and shallow talk.’
    • ‘They were infamous rumour mongers because they overheard a lot of idle chatter at the latrines.’
    • ‘Their culture is to earn more by using less fuel, doing less labour, and carrying fewer passengers, and spend the rest of the time in idle gossip.’
    • ‘You had better avoid entertaining my idle speculations, Mr Hore-Lacey, and deal with your application.’
    • ‘There doesn't seem to be a moment of idle speculation in the book.’
    • ‘Many other females made him irritable because of their continuous idle chatter and senseless conversation.’
    frivolous, trivial, trifling, minor, petty, foolish, lightweight, shallow, superficial, insignificant, unimportant, worthless, valueless, pointless, paltry, niggling, peripheral, without depth, inane, fatuous, senseless, meaningless, purposeless, unnecessary, time-wasting
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    1. 2.1 (especially of a threat or boast) without foundation.
      ‘I knew Ellen did not make idle threats’
      • ‘Recent suggestions that we'll see return of the stiletto has been dismissed by fashion critics as an idle threat from the catwalks in Europe and New York this year.’
      • ‘Seasoned observers of the unpredictable Scot will know not to take too seriously these idle threats.’
      • ‘The idle boast recently that New Labour were bang on target to ‘lift’ a predetermined number of children out of poverty was baffling.’
      • ‘Freshwater acknowledged it was not an idle threat.’
      • ‘Perhaps sensing that this was not an idle threat, the protests immediately tapered off.’
      • ‘But this is an idle boast if police are forced to abandon one set of law breakers to chase after another.’
      • ‘The good burghers of the Ayrshire town fancy themselves as an erudite bunch and in the club's round-up page in their matchday magazine showed this is no idle boast.’
      • ‘Would we do it if we did not have the US to back up our idle threat?’
      • ‘This was no idle boast, as she had a very mild and charitable disposition and possessed many good qualities.’
      • ‘The larger of the two, Arlen, comes across as an insecure bully, flaunting his juvenile snake tattoo and badgering Muldrow with idle threats.’
      • ‘Barton's words were ‘potentially not just an idle threat’ and the Armed Response Unit went to see the defendant.’
      • ‘It may simply be an idle threat - Martin's government appears stable… for now.’
      • ‘She knew the Committee didn't mess around: this wasn't an idle threat.’
      • ‘Judge Byron's advertising of his willingness to entertain suits from anywhere was no idle boast.’
      • ‘Again it is convenient to think that these are just idle threats and that the lives of lawyers are not at risk.’
      • ‘A showbiz reporter of the old school, he used to possess fearsome power and ‘You'll never play this town again’ was no idle threat.’
      • ‘We can only hope it was a sincere promise and not an idle threat.’
      • ‘Luckily, the supervisor seemed to be quite bright, and wasn't taken in by these idle threats.’
      • ‘So he did something that for the rest of us is merely an idle threat.’
      • ‘That was no idle threat and it must be assumed that these thoughts have returned to him this weekend.’
      empty, meaningless, aimless, pointless, worthless, useless, vain, in vain, insubstantial, futile, ineffective, ineffectual
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[no object]
  • 1(of a person) spend time doing nothing; be idle.

    ‘four men were idling outside the shop’
    • ‘One day should be spent visiting some of the key vineyards, so I took advantage of the Discovery Pass and idled away two agreeable afternoons visiting Margaux and St Emilion.’
    • ‘Is there a reason for this, or are you simply idling?’
    • ‘I guess I slept 50% of the trip, ate 30%, and idled 20% of the time on the aircraft.’
    • ‘All summer long Dolly has flopped about during the heat of the day, stretching full length on the shady concrete pavers by the gate, idling away the hours she should have spent grooming.’
    • ‘Not that she had been idling away her time until her vocation called - Coppola already had a successful street wear clothing company called Milk Fed and a career as a photographer to her name, both of which she intends to continue.’
    • ‘An old-time farmer might well have done that - and he would have been working, not idling.’
    • ‘At last an end to blokes idling morosely in Monsoon while the women they are browsing with compare a succession of near identical burgundy velvet.’
    • ‘It's easy as pie just to sit by the highway, idling, letting the drivers pass you by.’
    • ‘No one dawdles or idles there, yet they just manage to cope with the job.’
    • ‘Script problems trip up Carol Lempert's Edith Frank, too; she idles for an hour-and-a-half as a melancholy mom trying to hold her family together before turning into a heartless monster practically on a dime.’
    • ‘The next time you're idling in Italy, try asking someone to explain it.’
    • ‘After a year idling, Mike started to take music courses in 2003, met people with the same interest and formed a band.’
    • ‘Just at first glance, I could see a good hundred million people idling around outside and in the hallways waiting to catch their bait.’
    • ‘As well, the frequency of idling appears to decrease as a person ages - a retiree is the least likely to idle.’
    • ‘By three o'clock that afternoon, idling on a green pathway in the company of Tuke Taylor and watching a farmer mow a flower-rich hay meadow, I felt a long, long way from Lisbon.’
    • ‘Every day, open-backed trucks enter the city packed with families and their possessions - refugees returning home from years spent idling in Pakistan and Iran.’
    • ‘With 4 inches of plaid boxer shorts visible above sagging jeans, Tony Mihalo fit almost perfectly into the teen crowd idling away the night in a Naperville bowling alley.’
    • ‘Having spent days idling in Shanghai, China's largest city, the players had never imagined the match would be so brutal and physical, especially in the second half.’
    • ‘Incredibly, with Bryant idling on the bench, the Lakers shook off their distractions and managed to thrash one of their supposed title rivals in their opening game.’
    • ‘Actually, the movie is set in the hotels and clubs of contemporary Tokyo, as the characters spend much of their time idling while waiting to complete their singular obligations.’
    do nothing, be inactive, vegetate, sit back, take it easy, rest on one's oars, mark time, kick one's heels, twiddle one's thumbs, kill time, languish, laze, laze about, laze around, lounge, lounge about, lounge around, loll, loll about, loll around, loaf, loaf about, loaf around, slouch, slouch about, slouch around
    fritter, while, laze, loiter
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    1. 1.1 Move aimlessly or lazily.
      ‘Cal idled past MetroHealth at a stately pace’
      • ‘The horse was a bit green and just idled when he hit the front, but hey, don't be greedy!’
      • ‘The excruciatingly beautiful clockwork ballerina's not by the Tate, which, though tragic, merely leaves me still idling along with no goal.’
      • ‘Wyatt spent the rest of his morning before Drama idling from class to class.’
      • ‘While the heat in Germany can be offered as some sort of excuse for England's lethargy, it was not that hot when they stumbled against Wales and idled to an embarrassing stop against Northern Ireland in qualifiers.’
      • ‘Booth's Steel were idling along in eighth spot at this time.’
      • ‘Chorist, who had taken over from Naheef at halfway, did her best to battle back under Kieren Fallon as the winner idled in front, but she never really looked like overhauling the leader.’
      • ‘Life reverted to a series of McJobs once again as he idled around the country going from one gun fair to another - the travelling home of the racist, anti-tax, anti-government militia groups that cling to America's underbelly.’
      • ‘Victory by a head was not what his growing army of fans expected, especially at 4 / 9, but he idled in front and history might yet prove that he beat a very good horse in the Aidan O Brien trained Meath.’
      • ‘Fallon said: ‘I wanted to ride a race on him as when he gets to the front he idles and thinks he has done enough but everything around me was falling away and I had to go when I did.’’
      • ‘He picked up well and Johnny said he idled when he hit the front.’
      • ‘She's so relaxed in behind but idles as soon as she hits the front.’
      • ‘Which is fine when we're idling along, watching the world change through Alexander's eyes, but makes the ending feel rushed, as if time was running out too quickly for anyone to think of anything better.’
      • ‘The explanation from a soldier idling alongside dozens of troops, was: ‘We're too busy to pick them up.’’
      • ‘The horses were idling around - how she loved to watch them their shiny coats, lissome bodies, the graceful tilt to their heads.’
      • ‘Miss Walton said: ‘He was left in front and he did not really want to be as he idles, but there was nothing he could do when the other fell.’’
      • ‘He idled in front up the hill but was never seriously troubled to hold on by two lengths from Yogi, with Alexanderthegreat another half-length away in third.’
      • ‘I idled up beside him, lighting a cigarette (my parents figured I'd be smoking anyway even if they told me not to, so they didn't really care), asking him what the problem was.’
      • ‘Still… if this blog is all that's going to keep me scribbling at the moment, I suppose I might as well keep it on the road - even if it is only idling along the kerb at 5 kph.’
      • ‘To see him at work you would think he was a mild-mannered postal worker, happily idling along on a red postie bike as he delivers the mail.’
      • ‘We were just idling along northbound on Happy Valley Road just talking, laughing, and listing to rock and roll music.’
      saunter, stroll, dawdle, drift, potter, amble, go slowly, walk slowly, loiter, maunder, wander, straggle
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    2. 1.2North American with object Take out of use or employment.
      ‘he will close the newspaper, idling 2,200 workers’
      • ‘Russian secret service personnel, idled by the withering of Russia's global presence, resort to private business or are re-deployed by the state to spy on industrial and economic secrets in order to aid budding Russian multinationals.’
      • ‘The Tennessee Valley Authority said its Browns Ferry No.1 nuclear reactor in Athens was idled Saturday for continued testing following a 22-year shutdown.’
      • ‘The owner of the Sago Mine, where 12 men died after an explosion last year, said Wednesday it has idled the coal operation because of high production costs and weak prices.’
      saunter, stroll, dawdle, drift, potter, amble, go slowly, walk slowly, loiter, maunder, wander, straggle
      View synonyms
  • 2(of an engine) run slowly while disconnected from a load or out of gear.

    ‘the car is noisily idling in the street’
    • ‘Buses and vans idling for a half hour at 12: 30 a.m. while bands load their gear is not a viable practice for a residential block.’
    • ‘‘The engine is idling, and we're ready to rev it up at a moment's notice,’ says Ken Johnson, a spokesman for co-sponsor Rep.’
    • ‘A line of cars clogs the tree-lined street, engines idling in the sun.’
    • ‘So oil dilution isn't a problem when you're idling.’
    • ‘Anthony sighed, leaving the car engine idling.’
    • ‘With that capability, a car's engine could be automatically shut off at stoplights, or any time the engine is idling for any length of time.’
    • ‘The driver pointed a white-gloved hand in the direction of a small ferry boat waiting at the pier, its engine idling.’
    • ‘Encouraged by how it has taken off, Donnelly plans to bring a motion to the Coquitlam city council to stop municipal vehicles from idling excessively.’
    • ‘But automakers should learn to illuminate them only when in gear, not while idling in park.’
    • ‘Brian pulled into one of the angled parking slots in front of the building and sat, engine idling.’
    • ‘She let the big black truck idle for a moment before turning it off.’
    • ‘Motors idled, and tailpipes puffed and nobody was going anywhere.’
    • ‘I just sat outside, my car idling, waiting for her to shift to be over.’
    • ‘She still hadn't arrived and the yacht's motors were idling and the galley crew had prepared a wonderful dinner.’
    • ‘The engine was idling, which made a comforting noise, and kept the blowers warm, which made her feel increasingly drowsy.’
    • ‘Never leave the saw unattended with the engine idling.’
    • ‘When she walked outside, the cab was already idling by the corner.’
    • ‘Josh's car is already waiting, the engine idling.’
    • ‘With the car standing motionless now but with the engine still idling, she can smell foul fumes and heat.’
    • ‘With the squeal of abused metal, it grated to a halt, engine still idling.’
    tick over, run slowly in neutral
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    1. 2.1with object Cause (an engine) to idle.
      • ‘He pulled up hard into the vertical and idled the engines, diminishing any heat source from the F - 22.’
      • ‘Under the proposed bylaw, drivers would be fined $100 for idling their engines for more than three minutes.’
      tick over, run slowly in neutral
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Phrasal Verbs

  • idle something away

    • Spend one's time doing nothing or very little.

      • ‘I would never see Grandpa again, never sit on his lap dunking my toast into his sweet coffee, nor follow him to his workshop to mend a rake, nor idle the afternoon away with a scrap of wood and a hammer and nails.’
      • ‘As many Internet users do, I sometimes go surfing, following links, idling the happy hours away… you know the drill.’
      • ‘Damningly for them, Klos idled the afternoon away without being required to make a save.’
      • ‘The Raiders spent the rest of the night idling their time away beside a roaring campfire.’
      • ‘He is also making great play of the Prince's Trust, appalled as he is by the thought of people idling their days away, never doing an honest day's work in their lives.’
      • ‘It idles the day away, by alternating a cosy snooze with restless calls.’
      • ‘After Jack retired, he was idling his time away in the garden or on the golf course with no great purpose in life.’
      • ‘As he idled the afternoon away watching TV, he saw an advertisement promising a free Virgin Atlantic flight to New York to anyone who bought a Hoover.’
      • ‘It is not often I have the leisure to idle my time away here.’
      • ‘He was idling the day away at the bait pond with his Dad when the big fish gobbled on his worms.’


Old English īdel ‘empty, useless’, of West Germanic origin; related to Dutch ijdel ‘vain, frivolous, useless’ and German eitel ‘bare, worthless’.