a musical instrument of the viol family.
Her aunt plays first fiddle with the state symphony orchestra.
Nautical. a small ledge or barrier raised in heavy weather to keep dishes, pots, utensils, etc., from sliding off tables and stoves.
British Informal. swindle; fraud.
to play on the fiddle.
to make trifling or fussing movements with the hands (often followed by with):
fiddling with his cuffs.
to touch or manipulate something, as to operate or adjust it; tinker (often followed by with):
You may have to fiddle with the antenna to get a clear picture on the TV.
to waste time; trifle; dally (often followed by around):
Stop fiddling around and get to work.
British Informal. to cheat.
to play (a tune) on a fiddle.
to trifle or waste (usually used with away):
to fiddle time away.
Bookbinding. to bind together (sections or leaves of a book) by threading a cord through holes cut lengthwise into the back.
British Informal.

to falsify:
to fiddle the account books.
to cheat:
to fiddle the company out of expense money.

fine as a fiddle, South Midland and Southern U.S. (def 15).
fit as a fiddle, in perfect health; very fit:
The doctor told him he was fit as a fiddle.
Also, as fit as a fiddle.
play second fiddle. .
Contemporary Examples

Did Cronkite fiddle with his earpiece or get up and take a look at news as it came in from the wire services spontaneously?
Why the World Trusted Walter Lee Siegel July 18, 2009

Other times, the work she intended for Montag and Pratt played second fiddle to the creative demands of the production.
Does ‘Rehab’ Help or Hurt? Maria Elena Fernandez September 12, 2012

Willie Polk played the fiddle and another boy, call him Shoefus, played the guitar, like I did.
Stanley Booth on the Life and Hard Times of Blues Genius Furry Lewis Stanley Booth June 6, 2014

The promotion of democracy and human rights came in as a fifth fiddle.
Obama To Cut Middle East Democracy Programs Jamie Dettmer January 1, 2014

And then she came up with the idea of asking him to fiddle with his collection of detritus.
Tacita Dean’s ‘Five Americans’ Captures a Quiet Brilliance Blake Gopnik May 6, 2012

Historical Examples

To play second fiddle to a young woman is an abomination to us all.
Evan Harrington, Complete George Meredith

Why, inside two weeks he’ll be fit as a fiddle, and inside a month he’ll be his own self!
Way of the Lawless Max Brand

The fiddle all but spoke, and produced a sensation of dancing in the toes of even those who happened to be seated.
Ungava R.M. Ballantyne

For he had been painfully conscious now and then that he played but second fiddle.
Weighed and Wanting George MacDonald

Supposing that a fiddle was left behind, or a drum, or a rattle, why should the trivial fact be gravely recorded?
Ancient Chinese account of the Grand Canyon, or course of the Colorado Alexander M’Allan

(informal) any instrument of the viol or violin family, esp the violin
a violin played as a folk instrument
time-wasting or trifling behaviour; nonsense; triviality
(nautical) a small railing around the top of a table to prevent objects from falling off it in bad weather
(Brit, informal) an illegal or fraudulent transaction or arrangement
(Brit, informal) a manually delicate or tricky operation
(informal) at the fiddle, on the fiddle, engaged in an illegal or fraudulent undertaking
(informal) face as long as a fiddle, a dismal or gloomy facial expression
(informal) fit as a fiddle, in very good health
(informal) play second fiddle, to be subordinate; play a minor part
to play (a tune) on the fiddle
(intransitive) often foll by with. to make restless or aimless movements with the hands
(informal) when intr, often foll by about or around. to spend (time) or act in a careless or inconsequential manner; waste (time)
(often foll by with) (informal) to tamper or interfere (with)
(informal) to contrive to do (something) by illicit means or deception: he fiddled his way into a position of trust
(transitive) (informal) to falsify (accounts, etc); swindle

late 14c., fedele, earlier fithele, from Old English fiðele, which is related to Old Norse fiðla, Middle Dutch vedele, Dutch vedel, Old High German fidula, German Fiedel; all of uncertain origin.

Perhaps from Medieval Latin vitula “stringed instrument,” which is perhaps related to Latin vitularia “celebrate joyfully,” from Vitula, Roman goddess of joy and victory, who probably, like her name, originated among the Sabines [Klein, Barnhart]. Unless the Medieval Latin word is from the Germanic ones.

Fiddle has been relegated to colloquial usage by its more proper cousin, violin, a process encouraged by phraseology such as fiddlesticks, contemptuous nonsense word fiddlededee (1784), and fiddle-faddle. Fit as a fiddle is from 1610s.

late 14c., from fiddle (n.); the figurative sense of “to act nervously or idly” is from 1520s. Related: Fiddled; fiddling.

Another name for the violin; fiddle is the more common term for the instrument as played in folk music and bluegrass.


: His new boat is a tax fiddle (1874+)


(also fiddle around or vfiddle fart around or fiddlefartx) To waste time; goof around, fart around: and the school board fiddled (entry form 1663+)
To cheat; defraud (1604+)

Related Terms

bull fiddle, git-box, play second fiddle, second fiddle
In addition to the idiom beginning with
also see:

fit as a fiddle
hang up (one’s fiddle)
play second fiddle


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