- 1: lacking worth or basis : vain <idle chatter> <idle pleasure>
- 2: not occupied or employed: as a : having no employment : inactive <idle workers>
- b : not turned to normal or appropriate use <idle farmland>
- c : not scheduled to compete <the team will be idle tomorrow>
- 3a : shiftless, lazy
- b : having no evident lawful means of support
In describing a person or machine, idle means the act of nothing or no work (for example: "John Smith is an idle person"). This is a person who spends his days doing nothing could be said to be "idly passing his days." (For example: Mary has been idle on her instant messenger account for hours.) A computer processor or communication circuit is described as idle when it is not being used by any program, application or message. Similarly, an engine of an automobile may be described as idle when it is running only to sustain its running (not doing any useful work), this is also called the tickover.
Idleness as dependent upon cultural norms
Typically, when one describes a machine as idle, it is an objective statement regarding its current state. However, when used to describe a person, idle typically carries a negative connotation, with the assumption that the person is wasting their time by doing nothing of value. Such a view is reflected in the proverb "an idle mind is the devil's workshop". Also, the popular phrase "killing time" refers to idleness and can be defined as spending time doing nothing in particular in order that time seems to pass more quickly. These interpretations of idleness are not universal – they are more typically associated with Western cultures.
Books on idleness
The state of being idle is sometimes even celebrated with a few books on the subject of idleness. How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson is one such example from an author who is also known for his magazine, "The Idler", devoted to promoting its ethos of "idle living". Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness; And other essays is another book that explores the virtues of being idle in the modern society.
Mark Slouka published his essay, "Quitting the Paint Factory: The Virtues of Idleness" in the November 2004 Harper's Magazine, hinting at a post-scarcity economy, and linking conscious busy-ness with antidemocratic and fascist tendencies.