Definitions

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

  • adj. Not employed or busy: idle carpenters. See Synonyms at inactive.
  • adj. Avoiding work or employment; lazy: shiftless, idle youth. See Synonyms at lazy.
  • adj. Not in use or operation: idle hands.
  • adj. Lacking substance, value, or basis. See Synonyms at baseless, vain.
  • intransitive v. To pass time without working or while avoiding work.
  • intransitive v. To move lazily and without purpose.
  • intransitive v. To run at a slow speed or out of gear. Used of a motor vehicle.
  • transitive v. To pass (time) without working or while avoiding work; waste: idle the afternoon away.
  • transitive v. To make or cause to be unemployed or inactive.
  • transitive v. To cause (a motor, for example) to idle.
  • n. A state of idling. Used of a motor vehicle: an engine running quietly at idle.
  • n. A mechanism for regulating the speed at which an engine runs at rest: set the idle higher to keep the motor from stalling.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Empty, vacant.
  • adj. Not turned to appropriate use; not occupied.
  • adj. Not engaged in any occupation or employment; unemployed; inactive; doing nothing.
  • adj. Averse to work, labor or employment; lazy; slothful.
  • adj. Of no importance; useless; worthless; vain; trifling; thoughtless; silly.
  • v. To spend in idleness; to waste; to consume.
  • v. To lose or spend time doing nothing, or without being employed in business.
  • v. Of an engine: to run at a slow speed, or out of gear; to tick over.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Of no account; useless; vain; trifling; unprofitable; thoughtless; silly; barren.
  • adj. Not called into active service; not turned to appropriate use; unemployed.
  • adj. Not employed; unoccupied with business; inactive; doing nothing.
  • adj. Given rest and ease; averse to labor or employment; lazy; slothful.
  • adj. Light-headed; foolish.
  • intransitive v. To lose or spend time in inaction, or without being employed in business.
  • transitive v. To spend in idleness; to waste; to consume; -- often followed by away.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Empty; vacant; not occupied: as, idle hours.
  • Not engaged in any occupation or employment; unemployed; inactive; doing nothing.
  • In a state of disuse; remaining unused.
  • Useless; ineffectual; vain; bootless; unavailing; futile: as, idle rage.
  • Of no importance; trivial; irrelevant; flippant; pointless; unprofitable: as, an idle story.
  • Acting idly or unconcernedly; careless; indifferent.
  • Slothful; given to rest and ease; averse to labor; lazy: as, an idle fellow.
  • Wandering in mind; light-headed: an occasional use in old plays.
  • n. Idleness; indolence.
  • n. An indolent person.
  • To spend or waste time in inaction or without employment.
  • To spend in idleness; waste: generally followed by away: as, to idle away time.
  • Of machinery, doing no direct work; merely changing the direction of motion: as, an idle gear; also, running merely to carry transmission-elements: as, an idle pulley (which see).

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

  • adj. lacking a sense of restraint or responsibility
  • adj. not in action or at work
  • adj. not having a job
  • adj. not yielding a return
  • v. be idle; exist in a changeless situation
  • v. run disconnected or idle
  • adj. without a basis in reason or fact
  • adj. not in active use
  • n. the state of an engine or other mechanism that is idling
  • adj. silly or trivial

Etymologies

Middle English idel, from Old English īdel.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Old English īdel, from West Germanic *īdla-. Cognate with Dutch ijdel ("vain"), German eitel ("bare, worthless"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • He is free to believe in his own beliefs which, according to Tusar, do not include the Vedic myths or what he calls the idle intellectual approximations of the Avatar.

    Archive 2009-08-01

  • The marquis privately reproved his daughters, for what he termed the idle fancies of a weak mind; and desired them no more to disturb the peace of the castle with the subject of their late fears.

    A Sicilian Romance

  • His wife often admonished him of the danger of tampering with the deadly vice of intemperance; but he only laughed at what he termed her idle fears.

    The Path of Duty, and Other Stories

  • His wife often admonished him of the danger of tampering with the deadly vice of intemperance, but he only laughed at what he termed her idle fears.

    Stories and Sketches

  • 'Why, my uncle told me he would not have me getting into what he calls idle company.

    The Young Step-Mother

  • He is vexed at what he calls my idle ways, and waste of time: as if I need plod on, like a city clerk, six days a week and no holidays!

    Elster's Folly

  • That said, I also find that Mexicans (and also Central Americans) are very readily sociable and willing (even eager) to engage in idle conversation while sitting around on park benches or whatnot.

    coming home

  • All four cycles (intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust) are completed simultaneously and the need to idle is eliminated.

    Sustainable Design Update » Blog Archive

  • Čapek, on the other hand, even eliminated planning of future activities from his idleness: To be idle is not even to rest.

    Archive 2009-06-01

  • His complexion like his friend's is remarkably dark, and he stoops considerably, which is supposed to proceed from intense study; for, as the said gentleman never wastes his time in idle conversation, it is universally believed that he must know a great deal.

    Letter 222

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