Know Your Words

What Is the Best Word for Wasting Time?

Please LoiterLast week, after finally having enough of the bullshit and the idiocy, I resigned from my job. It was (as it always is) a great feeling to announce my impending departure, but now I have a problem. No, I don’t need a new job, I need to survive the next three days in the office with almost nothing to do. Oh sure, I’ll have some meetings to attend and the duration of my lunches will be a little longer than normal, but even with these diversions I’ll spend much of the next three work days trying to devise clever ways to waste time.

This evening, while turning the phrase over in my mind, I began to wonder if there’s a suitable word that encompasses or encapsulates the special kind of time wasting that I’ll be doing in the coming days. To find out, I consulted a book I don’t reach for too often, the Reverse Dictionary.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a reverse dictionary, the author of one in the BLRL collection, Theodore M. Bernstein, describes the text this way:

A conventional dictionary lists words alphabetically and gives you their meanings. This unconventional dictionary lists an array of meanings alphabetically and gives you the words.

The words it discovers for you are those you have momentarily forgotten or those you never knew or those of whose meanings you were not quite certain.

ReverseSo what words does the Reverse Dictionary give for the phrase “wasting time”? Dawdle, loiter dilly-dally, and piddle. As nice a selection of words as this is, I wondered about their meanings and which one best captured the essence of my situation. To find out, I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary. Here’s what transpired:

Dawdle: 1) To idle, waste time; to be sluggish or lazy; to loiter, linger dally.

Dally: 1) To talk or converse lightly or idly; to chat. 2) To act of speak sportively, make sport, amuse oneself; to toy, sport, play with, especially in the way of amorous caresses; to flirt, wanton.

Dilly-Dally: To act with trifling vacillation or indecision; to go on dallying with a thing without advancing; to loiter in vacillation, to trifle.

Loiter: (intransitive) In early use, to idle, waste one’s time in idleness. Now only with more specific meaning: To linger indolently on the way when sent on an errand or when making a journey; to linger idly about a place; to waste time in some particular task, to dawdle. (Transitive) To neglect one’s work; to allow time to pass idly; to waste carelessly or upon trifles; to postpone getting or giving (something).

Piddle: (intransitive) To work or act in a trifling, paltry, petty, or insignificant way; to trifle, toy, dally.

So which one of these best describes my situation and how I’ll be “working” during the next three days? I have to say, I thought it would be dawdle, but after reading these definitions from the OED, I have to go with piddle.

Color me surprised … and later, bored out of my fucking skull.

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