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Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playthings

Hands clasped on window sill

Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playthings Definition

Idle hands are the devil’s playthings. One who has nothing else to do is likely to get into trouble or cause mischief.

Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playthings Examples

  • I gave the substitute teacher my folder of extra credit and told her “Remember to always keep them busy. You know what they say, idle hands are the devil’s playthings!”
  • Last week we had a power outage lasting twelve hours. Five hours in everyone’s phone was dead and Terry was trying to start a bonfire in the living room. I guess it’s true what they say about idle hands.


The devil finds work for idle hands. Bad thoughts find empty heads.

Alex North

I have ideas every day, and if I’m not carrying a pad of paper, I’m typing it into the notes thing on my iPhone, and it’s just ridiculous – idle hands are the devil’s plaything, and I can’t be the devil’s plaything I got to be the devil; I got to be the guy making it all happen.

Corey Taylor

Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playthings Origin

Spiritual Origin

Do some good deeds that the devil, who is oure enemy, ne fynde yow nat unocupied.

Geoffrey Chauncer, Tales of Melibee, 1400

The spirit of our phrase was likely popularized by the legendary 14th century English poet Geoffrey Chauncer in a passage from his famous Canterbury Tales.

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of 24 stories written by Chauncer from 1387-1400. This collection includes the Tale of Melibee where Chauncer quotes an even earlier work written by the ancient Latin priest Saint Jerome.

Fac et aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum / engage in some occupation, so that the devil may always find you busy

St. Jerome’s Letters, 347 BC

Hieronymus also known as Saint Jerome of Stridon is a Roman priest that lived around the mid 300s C.E. He is best remembered for his part in creating the first Latin translation of the Bible from Hebrew. A version known as the Vulgate.

Literary Origin

In works of labour, or of skill, I would be busy too; For Satan finds some mischief still. For idle hands to do.

Isaac Watts, Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children, 1715

The earliest example of the phrase idle hands used in context with the Devil appears in a book of poems and Songs written by Isaac Watts. Isaac is an English Christian minister and logician known as the Godfather of hymnody. He lived during the late 17th century and early 18th century.