from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • intransitive verb To splash or spatter with or as if with a liquid.
  • intransitive verb To splash liquid gently and playfully.
  • intransitive verb To undertake something superficially or without serious intent.
  • intransitive verb To feed by moving the bill back and forth just below the surface or on the bottom in shallow water. Used of ducks.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To dip a little and often; hence, to wet; moisten; spatter; sprinkle.
  • To play in water, as with the hands; splash or play, as in water.
  • To do anything in a slight or superficial manner; touch or try here and there; dip into anything: with in: as, to dabble in railway shares; to dabble in literature.
  • To tamper; meddle.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • intransitive verb To play in water, as with the hands; to paddle or splash in mud or water.
  • intransitive verb To work in slight or superficial manner; to do in a small way; to tamper; to meddle.
  • transitive verb To wet by little dips or strokes; to spatter; to sprinkle; to moisten; to wet.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb transitive To partially wet (something) by splashing or dipping; connotes playfulness.
  • verb intransitive To participate or have an interest in, but not so seriously.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb work with in an amateurish manner
  • verb bob forward and under so as to feed off the bottom of a body of water
  • verb dip a foot or hand briefly into a liquid
  • verb play in or as if in water, as of small children


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Possibly from Dutch dabbelen, frequentative of dabben, to strike, tap.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From dab


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  • I like to dabble in solids.

    June 14, 2009

  • Anyone notice that American Heritage half-asses their etymologies? It's like a task they really don't want to do.

    December 20, 2009

  • Have you read the American Heritage Dictionary's Word History for butterfly? It's pretty funny--it begins with this question: "Is a butterfly named for the color of its excrement or because it was thought to steal butter?"

    December 20, 2009

  • How do you mean "half-assed"? In my opinion, AHD etymologies are some of the best in the business, given that many have been done from scratch, they tend to include the Indo-European root, and they balance informativeness and conciseness in consideration for the limited space on the printed page.

    December 20, 2009

  • Yes, yes, a balance of informative and concise... but what I find endearing is that they can also be funny in a knowing and slightly naughty way.

    December 20, 2009

  • Hmm... I'm sorry. Not sure what I was thinking-- there was supposed to be a pun in there, which, now, totally escapes me. I guess my comment was a prime example of halfassed dumbassery.

    December 20, 2009