Word Confusion: Idle vs Idol vs Idyll

Posted July 27, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 18 February 2018

I may idle about, and I may long for a moment to idle in my version of an idyll, but I’m not about to worship an idle. How does one worship a verb or adjective?

Unfortunately, I’m not an idol either. Sigh…I always wanted to be a goddess…*grin*…that or laze away the afternoon in a hammock, a glass of lemonade by my side, and a good book. That would be an idyll…sigh…

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Idle Idol Idyll
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: idyll

A woman reclining on her stomach on a chaise longue

“Portrait of an Idle Woman” by Daniel Hernández Morillo (Salcabamba, 1856 – Lima, 1932) a Peruvian painter whose work is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

An symbol for an Indian charitable and social organization

“Durga Idol Naktala Udayan Sangha” is TechnoAyan’s own work under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Two rowboats near the bank of a montain lake

“Rowboat by Riverbank in Mountain Landscape” under the CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication, via VisualHunt.

The peace of rowing on the lake would be such an idyll.

Part of Grammar:
Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: idles
Past tense or past participle: idled
Gerund or Present participle: idling

Plural for noun: idols
Plural for noun: idylls
[Especially of a machine or factory] Not active or in use

  • [Of a person] Not working
  • Unemployed
  • [Of a person] Avoiding work
  • Lazy
  • [Attributive; of time] Characterized by inaction or absence of significant activity
  • [Of money] Held in cash or in accounts paying no interest

Without purpose or effect

  • Pointless
  • [Especially of a threat or boast] Without foundation

Verb, intransitive:
[Of a person] Spend time doing nothing

  • Be idle
  • Move aimlessly or lazily
  • [Of an engine] Run slowly while disconnected from a load or out of gear

Verb, transitive:
[Of a person] Spend time doing nothing

  • Be idle
  • Cause an engine to idle
  • [North American] Take out of use or employment
An image or representation of a god used as an object of worship

  • A person or thing that is greatly admired, loved, or revered
An extremely happy, peaceful, or picturesque episode or scene, typically an idealized or unsustainable one

  • A short description in verse or prose of a picturesque scene or incident, especially in rustic life

Material suitable for such a work

An episode or scene of idyllic charm

A brief or inconsequential romantic affair

[Music] A composition, usually instrumental, of a pastoral or sentimental character

There are assembly lines standing idle for lack of spare parts.

He’s an idler.

At no time in the day must there be an idle moment.

Uncle Henry hates for his money to lie idle.

He did not want to waste valuable time in idle chatter.

I knew Ellen did not make idle threats.

Verb, intransitive:
Four men were idling outside the shop.

Cal idled past MetroHealth at a stately pace.

The car is noisily idling in the street.

Verb, transitive:
Most idle problems are caused by a mixture issue.

He will close the newspaper, idling 2,200 workers.

It’s in the first commandment that demands that you not worship false idols.

Robert Redford is one of her movie idols.

ABC’s American Idol auditions to take place in 19 cities across America.

Many religions use idols as part of their beliefs.

The rural idyll remains strongly evocative in most industrialized societies.

It was a brief idyll between the two before they came to their senses.

“The Rambagh seems to effortlessly have the sense of a refuge and idyll that luxury hotels the world over try so hard to conjure.” – “Living Like a Maharajah“, Daily Beast Promotions, 21 January 2010

Theocritus wrote short pastoral poems, The Idylls.

Various poets wrote of idylls, including Siegfried Sassoon; English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and, Nietzsche.

The concept of Arcadia with its “noble savage” is a pastoral idyll.

Adjective: idler, idlest Adjective: idol-worshipping, idolatrous
Noun: idolater, idolatry, idolatries, idolization, idolizer
Verb: idolize
Adjective: idyllic
Adverb: idyllically
Phrasal Verb
idle something away
History of the Word:
Old English īdel meaning empty, useless and related to the Dutch ijdel meaning vain, frivolous, or useless and the German eitel meaning bare, worthless. Middle English from the Old French idole, which is from Latin idolum meaning image or form (used in the ecclesiastical Latin sense of idol), from the Greek eidōlon, from eidos meaning form or shape. Late 16th century (in the Latin form), from the Latin idyllium, which is from the Greek eidullion, a diminutive of eidos meaning form, picture.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Pinterest Photo Credits

Autumn Leaves by Mister-Mastro and Drowsy Cat by Elsie esq. are under the CC BY 2.0 license while Guanyin by jsbaw is under the CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication. All three are via VisualHunt.

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