Idol, Idle, or Idyll?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Idol," "Idle," and "Idyll"?

"Idol" and "idle" are easy to confuse because they sound identical (i.e., they are perfect homonyms). These words are also sometimes confused with "idyll," which sounds similar.
  • "Idol" is someone or something you admire or worship. For example:
    • The actor Jimmy Nail is my idol. correct tick
  • "Idle" means lazy. For example:
    • Stop being idle. correct tick
    • The car engine will idle at 1000 rpm when the gearbox is in neutral. correct tick
    • (The verb "to idle" is used for an engine running in a neutral state.)
  • "Idyll" is a pleasant, peaceful, or picturesque time or place. For example:
    • We're going to my idyll, a quaint rural village in the Peak District.
    An "idyll" can also be a short description of a picturesque scene or event.
idol, idle, or idyll?

More about "Idol," "Idle," and "Idyll"

Idol

The noun "idol" means a representation (e.g., statue, carving, figurine) of a god used as an object of worship. The word "idol" is often used figuratively to denote a person or object that is greatly admired, loved, or revered. For example:
  • A champion can never pay back the help that made him an idol. correct tick (Boxer Jack Dempsey)
  • A god who lets us prove his existence would just be an idol. correct tick (Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
  • I don't idolize anyone or aspire to be like anyone. correct tick (Actress Brooke Burke)
  • (The verb "to idolize" comes from "idol.")

Idle

The word "idle" is most commonly used as an adjective meaning lazy or work-shy. For example:
  • You really are an idle sod! correct tick
  • It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man. correct tick (Founding Father of the United States Benjamin Franklin)
"Idle" can also mean worthless or pointless. For example:
  • I have no time to engage in idle gossip. correct tick
  • As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence. correct tick (Benjamin Franklin)
"Idle" can also be used as verb meaning to take it easy, languish, or lounge around. For example:
  • Do not idle in the coffee room. correct tick
  • I need to idle on the beach for a week with a good book. correct tick
When it refers to an engine, "to idle" means to run slowly while out of gear or detached from a load. For example:
  • The engine is idling faster than it should. correct tick
  • Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears. correct tick (Critic Barbara Johnson)

Idyll

The noun "idyll" denotes a happy, peaceful, or picturesque period or event. It means an ideal time or an ideal place. For example:
  • Hollywood is my domestic idyll. correct tick (Actor Rufus Sewell)
  • There's something simple and idyllic about living in a house very close to the water. correct tick (Actress Andrea Riseborough)
  • (The adjective "idyllic" (meaning blissful or perfect) comes from "idyll.")
"Idyll" is also used to denote a short piece of verse describing a picturesque scene or incident (typically a rural one). For example:
  • The poem starts with short, non-rhyming idyll. correct tick

Remembering "Idol"

Let the dol in "idol" remind you that an idol can be a doll (i.e., a figurine that can be worshipped).

Remembering "Idle"

Let the le in "idle" remind you that an idle can mean lethargic (similar to lazy).

Remembering "Idyll"

Writers tend to be clear on the meaning of "idyllic." Remember that idyllic comes from idyll.

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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? Ms., Miss, or Mrs? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What is figurative language? What are adjectives? List of easily confused words

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