Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Idle and Idol

Idle vs Idol

Idle and idol sound very similar in the English language. Native speakers pronounce the second syllable with a slight difference. The difference is so slight you might not even notice it! That’s why you should focus on context. The words have completely different meanings and will not ever be used interchangeably. Context is the words surrounding or the situation surrounding the sentence; the other words can help you to determine which meaning and spelling is being discussed.

First, let’s explore the meanings of these two words so you can see how different they are.

Merriam-Webster.com provides these definitions:

Idle- 1. not working, active, or being used; like a car that’s engine on is but not driving anywhere or a person that is unemployed or lazy, or anything that’s currently not being used.

Don’t leave your car to idle in the driveway, just turn it off, and come in for a while.

Why don’t you get a job instead of sitting idle on the couch all day?

The bulldozer sat idle while the construction workers were on strike.

2. not having any real purpose or value; gossip or other conversation that does not have a purpose or threats that the person does not intend or cannot follow through with.

The girls’ idle chat revolved around boys and clothes.

I know my brother is not really going to kill me, it’s just an idle threat he makes when he’s mad.

3. not having much activity; having nothing helpful to do or just being still.

The dog lay idle on the porch all day.

Other forms include: idling, idled, idler, idly

Idol- 1. a greatly loved or admired person; a celebrity or another person that you look up to because of their accomplishments or attributes.

Elvis was a teen idol.

My Mother is my idol because she is the kindest person I know.

Michael Jordan is the high school basketball player’s idol.

2. a picture or object that is worshipped as a god; some cultures worship statues or religious artifacts.

They prayed to the fertility idol that they would have a baby.

Other forms include: idolize, idolatry

If you hear someone talking about a car or a lazy person, they are probably using the word idle; if they are talking about a celebrity or someone else they admire or hope to be like, or a statue or picture that is worshipped or coveted, they are probably using the word idol.

The two words sound nearly similar, except idle is pronounced eye-dill and idol is pronounced eye-doll. Native speakers do not slow their speech to make this distinction, so you must pay attention to the context the word is used in (the rest of the sentence).

If your companion says, “That ______ threat does not scare me; she’s not going to do anything,” you can guess which word they mean by the context. They are probably not talking about an idol.

Another difference between the two words is that they are different parts of speech. Idle is an adjective and idol is a noun. A noun is defined as a person, place, or thing and an adjective is a type of word that describes nouns.

Although you will probably never see these two words together except here, one word could describe the other. Imagine an out of work Elvis, sitting on the couch doing nothing—

You could call that an idle idol!


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