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(954 words)

The modern English “idle” derives from the Old English idel (“empty; worthless”; cf. Old Dutch idil, OHG ital, modern German eitel “vain, useless”). Alongside its original meaning of “worthless” or “purposeless,” it subsequently acquired a range of accents ranging from the neutral to the pejorative: “not employed” (of people, late OE); “lazy” or “slothful” (of people, from 14th century); “not doing work” (of things, from 1520s); “foolish; delirious; wandering in the mind” (from late 16th century; cf. “idle threat”).

Precisely the same range of meanings, significantly, i…

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Sokoll, Thomas, “Idleness”, in: Encyclopedia of Early Modern History Online, Editors of the English edition: Graeme Dunphy, Andrew Gow. Original German Edition: Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit. Im Auftrag des Kulturwissenschaftlichen Instituts (Essen) und in Verbindung mit den Fachherausgebern herausgegeben von Friedrich Jaeger. Copyright © J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung und Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag GmbH 2005–2012. Consulted online on 01 March 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2352-0272_emho_SIM_024446>
First published online: 2015
First print edition: 20180915

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